I remember one day during the summer of 2003, while the Hutton Report was in full swing, appearing live on Sky News for a full half hour, live on College Green. Much as I like hearing the sound of my own voice, I did question why Sky had thought my pearls of wisdom were worth so much time, when surely a politician would have been more relevant. “No, you don’t get it,” said a friend of mine. “They think youre more likely to say something interesting nd not tow a party line.” That example showed how irrelevant parliament and politicians had become. That the media should consider the words of a then relatively unknown commentator to be more interesting that a parliamentarian was an indictment of the depths to which parliament’s reputation had sunk.
But I wonder whether things are starting to change and that Parliament is becoming relevant again. In the last year I think there have been a number of setpiece parliamentary debates which have gripped the country. Various select committee hearings have captured the imagination. Now you may think I am going slightly over the top here, and perhaps youre right, but I do think that the media in general are covering parliament as an institution in a way they weren’t five years ago.
Earlier today I went to a breakfast reception in Parliament, held by the BBC Political Unit, to mark the launch of the new Sunday Politics programme. BBC News head honcho Helen Boaden and Andrew Neil outlined the content of the new show, and also talked about the new hour long Daily Politics. It is quite clear that MPs will be front and centre of all these programmes, with the punditerati playing a sideshow role. The regional optouts will no longer have talking heads – they will be 15-20 minute interviews with two loccal MPs. The Daily Politics will have a Yesterday in Parliament feature followed by a live debate with two of the protagonists. Each Monday there will be an MPs’ panel looking at the week ahead.
OK, some of this will be driven by the need to cut costs, but I believe that another reason is that MPs have begun to make themselves relevant again. They are saying things of interest, which to be honest wasn’t always the case. Actually, it still isn’t to a large extent, but the media have identified a large number of MPs who are willing to stretch party loyalties and be themselves. I know, because I invite them on my LBC show too.
Some MPs have got to the point of appearing almost embarrassed to trot out the latest line given to them by the party spin doctors. Long may that continue. And in large part this is due to the 2010 intake who have quietly hallenged a lot of political and parliamentary conventions. They are a very talented intake and subconciously have taken on board the need for Parliament to restore its reputation. So far, I think they have made a good start in helping it do just that.