It genuinely saddens me to say this, but standard of behaviour in the chamber of the London Assembly is embarrassingly poor. At last week’s budget debate Labour Deputy Leader John Biggs made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
There was a spat between Boris and John Biggs over police numbers, which I’ve written about here, but the the cause of the disagreement isn’t as important as the behaviour of the people involved. Both Boris and John Biggs were talking over each other, Biggs was refusing to listen to the answers that Boris was giving and Boris was clearly getting very frustrated in being constantly heckled by John Biggs. It came to a head when Biggs accused Boris of being a “disgraceful, lazy, liar” which forced the Chair of the Assembly, Dee Doocey, to call a vote to “silence” Biggs, is one step down from expelling him from the chamber. The exchange can be viewed below:
If you look at the history of our debates on Mayorwatch.co.uk you’ll see that bad tempered exchanges and poor behaviour are nothing new.
I believe that the attempt to have a “modern” chamber is largely the cause of this problem. The Assembly is very informal, the Mayor and members are regularly addressed by their first names and most of the questions and answers are given while seated, this leads to an atmosphere more akin to a pub argument than a seat of government.
In parliament MPs are addressed as “the Honorable Member for…..” as a reminder that you are addressing the representative of an electorate rather than an individual who you might dislike, their questions are asked through the Speaker and are in the third person. It is much harder for people to talk over each other if they have to stand to speak and sit down to listen to the answers to their questions. All these things are designed to move what can often be heated debate away from the personal.
It is easy to assume that the formality associated with political meetings is unnecessary and old fashioned but it has become clear to me that it is a important tool in keeping highly charged political discussions civil and manageable. I will be writing to the Chair of the Assembly to request that the Assembly move to a more traditional and formal way of doing businesses as it is clear that the casual approach has failed.