My Westminster experience

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Lianne de Mello was a Parliamentary Shadow on the 2010 OBV Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme.  She shadowed Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas and shares her views on governance and her  Westminster experience.

It was a historic highlight of an otherwise grim long night to hear the Brighton Pavilion result announced at nearly 6am on May 6th. Caroline Lucas had overturned a Labour majority to secure the seat, becoming the first Green Party MP in parliament. I was equally delighted when I learned that she was to become my mentor on the OBV shadowing scheme. 

I am not a member of any party, so was relatively new to both party politics and the inner workings of the Westminster bubble. However, I am broadly left with my interest in politics stemming from my frustrations of the previous government – the only one I remember. A new fresh voice was definitely what was needed.

I was also motivated by the so obviously unrepresentative parliament we have. A political elite dominates the top, and that’s a clear obstacle to a better politics where decisions are made by those who truly represent the interests of those who elected them. To paraphrase Andrew Neil in a recent documentary, how can a cabal from such a narrow and privileged background have the moral authority to make economic decisions that will affect many millions unlike them?

Ethnic minorities – particularly women, who face the usual glass ceiling women face in getting any top job, and those not from an upper-class background – are almost completely unrepresented within parliament. Things are improving; but only slowly and with enforced mechanisms such as minority shortlists, rather than the establishment’s goodwill. Sometimes politics seems like a hostile and dogmatically traditional place.

This extends to the experience of being in such a small party grouping in parliament, as my two weeks’ worth of shadowing Caroline Lucas MP attest. Reactions from other members ranged from a patronising patting-on-the-head to quite venomous attacks – which goes to show that often your very presence is enough to rub people up the wrong way!

Often the challenge posed by competing with bigger parties in elections is enough to get some of your vote-winning policies recognised in their manifestos and publications. Tellingly, I was told by a Labour activist that the Green Party had ‘done their job’ by winning a seat, ‘green issues’ are now on the agenda of the main parties, and that there was not much point in contesting further seats. As I responded, recent evidence shows that it’s unwise trusting some parties to follow through on their promises after an election!

Ultimately smaller parties and independents can influence policy firstly through forcing their electoral competitors to address their points in a campaign – but more importantly, if a seat is won in parliament there’s the opportunity to influence the parliamentary agenda by tabling questions, EDMs, organising debates and just generally being there. After all, your election proves that your constituents support your policies, and they have a right to have their concerns addressed by government.

Despite some less-friendly members, there are also many who work together with others across the political spectrum in parliamentary groups, committees, campaigns and for other events. Cross-party working is both valuable and important in its own right. One really interesting event was the launch of the Robin Hood Tax campaign, which showed how cross-party co-operation can come together really well. And as a bonus, Bill Nighy made an appearance!

The general experience of being in Westminster was quite surreal – especially sitting in the chamber galleries during one of the debates. The house is a lot smaller than it seems on TV! Many of the traditions feel quite dated, which I think probably contributes to the ‘another world’ impression our politics gives. To the uninitiated, ‘bobbing’, reliance on personal fitness to make sure you get to vote and the multiple events going on at any one point seem quite comical!

There are also more serious issues involved in becoming an MP including very long working hours - making it difficult for families, some parties’ selection procedures, and the generally insular environment of Westminster which makes it hard for newcomers.

I think there are many things that need to change to make it a more inclusive place for those who come from traditionally under-represented demographic groups. But it requires people to engage with and the challenge system in every way possible for it to happen, and that is where our responsibility lies.

Lianne de Mello works in local government, she has an interest in social justice and equalities issues. (Main picture)

Archived Comments

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Really enjoyed this article

Really enjoyed this article

An inspiration to us all!

An inspiration to us all! Fab article, enjoyed reading!

@Richard: Thanks very much

@Richard: Thanks very much =)

Lianne

Inspirational

I like this article because it gave a refreshing perspective from a BME young person like myself.

Lianne de Mello has most definately inspired me to apply for the shadowing scheme as she appears to have gained quite alot from her experience working with Caroline Lucas of the Green Party.

Apply today!

Good to hear, you can download the application form directly via here: http://is.gd/hxYYBa

great article

well done Lianne!

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