British MPs at work: Dr Emma Crewe’s parliamentary workshop

Last month, the History of Parliament played host to a workshop organised by Dr Emma Crewe of SOAS, University of London, to discuss her current research on the modern day House of Commons.

The History was brought right up to date during this workshop as anthropologists, political scholars and parliamentary officials gathered to discuss their work and in particular Dr Emma Crewe’s current project on the House of Commons. For the past year, Emma has been roaming all over the Palace of Westminster, observing, chatting and formally interviewing those who work there to find out exactly what makes the place tick.

Her research has shown the social and cultural nature of political activity in Westminster. Politics is changing, and with it so are MPs’ roles. Work in the constituencies, for example, now takes a great deal of MPs’ time, but instead of this being a necessary chore to get re-elected, Emma found that most enjoyed this work and the status it gave them. Within Westminster, Emma’s research painted a picture of a rather lonely life for many MPs in a very competitive atmosphere, both between and within parties, where MPs need to constantly perform in a number of different roles. The contradictory nature of these roles helps to explain why general opinion of MPs is often so low.

Later we heard papers from Matt Korris of the Hansard Society on new MPs’ experiences; Insa Koch (LSE) on her work on the political activity on an Oxford council estate; Mukulika Banerjee (LSE) and Jonathon Spencer (University of Edinburgh) on political cultures in India and Sri Lanka. The discussion established many common themes, for example how people everywhere are often disillusioned with politics and politicians; yet whilst in Britain this translates into voter apathy, on the subcontinent the opposite is the case and elections remain an exciting cultural event with a ‘festival’ atmosphere.

To read Emma’s impressions for the day, visit her blog.


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