Last week marked the 7th annual celebration of Parliament Week. Since 2011, it has been an opportunity for the UK Parliament to showcase the best it has to offer in collaboration with over 300 organisations.
With so much negative attention being generated in the press with Brexit and the recent publication of the Cox Report, it is more important than ever that the country has the opportunity to ’start up a conversation with the UK Parliament’.
2018 has not exactly been Parliament’s year.
Given the focus made by the press, public perception probably flicks somewhere between the paralysis of Brexit and the recent bullying and harassment scandal that spread from the Commons.
These are, of course, very serious issues. As the Prime Minister pleads with members from across the House to back her deal, Parliament will undoubtedly have a pivotal role in the outcome of the Brexit process. Similarly, the Dame Laura Cox Report lifted a lid on a side of Parliament that has been allowed to run rife for too long.
The findings of the report are bleak, citing:
‘a culture, cascading from the top down, of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed’.
Parliament’s Human Resource structure is decentralised, making the internal working of offices difficult to police. But there is so much more to Parliament than the press want to show.
Like any organisation Parliament is imperfect, but last week offered an opportunity to showcase the best that our democracy has to offer.
This year, the theme of celebrations was the ‘VOTE 100’ platform celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage. In collaboration with 300 organisations, Parliament Week created individual designs for classrooms to enhance young people’s understanding — including workshops and informative videos of exactly how Parliament works.
The effort is not made in vein. This year there were 8,031 events recorded across the country and overseas territories. This signals the involvement of different organisations from a variety of sectors starting, or continuing, their conversation with our democracy.
It is imperative that this dialogue continues. Parliament cannot be an institution that is present for one week per year.
Gradual changes, such as its new Democratic Access tours, have helped to break down the stigma that still exists around the estate and what it stands for. Members of the public should feel involved at all times — trust in politicians and our political process depends on it.
Parliament Week’s ambition is to engage, explore and empower. In schools, children should not be offered classroom exercises on a subject which then disappears for another year. Politics is not a fleeting issue — if we really want to follow the mantra of empowering and engaging, the best way to do this is at a young age.
It would be naive to think that politics, and specifically politicians, are enjoying a heyday. Soundbites in the press portray a culture of indecision over Brexit, and of malice with regard to bullying.
It is important that we showcase the UK Parliament for what it really is. It is the heart of one of the most successful democracies in the world — it is now the job of Parliament to make sure that people know this. Only then can the desired dialogue be created and maintained.