MEPs and their screens: should mobile phones be banned from the plenary hall?

If we want to make sure Neil Parish is the last MP to watch porn in the House of Commons, there’s an easy way to do it, Michael Deacon said in The Daily Telegraph. Simply ban cell phones from the chamber. Politicians shouldn’t use them there anyway. During my years of observing the chamber as a sketch-writer, I increasingly saw “rows and rows of MPs staring listlessly at their phones, like a vast roomful of bored teenagers”.

Such MPs are likely to be engaged in “completely innocent, even useful activities”: answering emails from voters or WhatsApp messages from party leaders. But it’s rude and destroys the whole sense that they are there. When asked in a 2016 interview why so many of his colleagues have been staring at their screens while delivering Labour’s response to an Autumn statement, John McDonnell replied: “It’s not looking good but it’s happening now”. Well it shouldn’t.

There’s no justification for that, agreed Patrick Maguire The times. Given that MPs have long banned MPs from reading newspapers in the Chamber, it makes little sense that our MPs should be allowed to sit there and play with their phones. Voters are entitled to “at least the appearance of concentration. As with the judiciary, this exam is just as important as the exam itself. Time to unwind.”

Indeed, Sebastian Payne said MPs would do well to rethink their entire relationship with smartphones and social media FT. They’ve developed an unhealthy attachment to Twitter, treating it as a constant sounding board and source of ideas. That’s a mistake, as it’s “phenomenally unrepresentative” of voter concerns. It’s a “self-chosen bubble” where raging partisanship and novelty trump sanity, and trending topics “come and go in a matter of hours.”

Typically, it was Twitter that persuaded Labor MPs to nominate Jeremy Corbyn to challenge the leadership to “widen the debate”. The party leadership is determined not to be misled by the platform again. As one influential member of the shadow cabinet put it, “All of us, as MPs, should spend less time on Twitter and more time knocking on doors in side seats.” Wise words. MEPs and their screens: should mobile phones be banned from the plenary hall?

Fry Electronics Team

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