Willy-Jousting and The Eton-ian Mafia: Does Westminster Work for Us?
People are filling up the hallway outside the Hallam University lecture theatre, fanning themselves with the 'draw what you think' coasters we've been given, pissed off we're having to wait for the 'little IT problem' to be fixed. Instead of sweating our arses off at the Meadowhall Student Lock In, we're sweating our arses off waiting for the penultimate Guardian Live discussion hosted by Rick Edwards, and today it's all about "Does Westminster work for us?". Tension is itching its way into the collective psyche and someone's already complaining they can't connect to the WiFi and won't be able to live Tweet the proceedings.
However it's important to point out, as Flinders did, that there are a lot of hard working MP's that leave their job because they and their families are being subject to constant abuse, often resulting in alcoholism, depression and marital breakdown. People have a perception of politicians as narcissistic Leviathans, but they are still human's who are (mostly) just as miserable by the state of things as the rest of us.
On the panel with Rick Edwards is Matthew Flinders (University of Sheffield professor), Helen Pidd (northern editor of The Guardian), Dr Knut Roder (Hallam University) and Ian Rotherham (Hallam University professor). Rick tells the eager audience that when he posed the discussion's question to his Twitter followers, the general consensus was a big fat 'no'. Similar feelings follow suit, both from the panel (Helen Pidd says "of course not") and the people in the audience.
A politics student gave an incredibly well thought out and relatable speech to kick things off, emphasising our public service which has been "withered to reduce the deficit that it did not cause", Westminster as an "elitist club" and "noble is one of the last words I think of when I think about our Westminster politicians". The panel come to a resounding agreement that the political sphere today is a different dynamic to what it was 30 years ago, but this by no means equates to things being any better.
Matthew Flinders says, somewhat metaphorically: "one of the best things about Westminster is that it's collapsing, it's falling down". By this he's drawing similarities between the need to rebuild not just the structure of the brick work of the Houses of Parliament, but the structure of the people working within the system too.
Lots of great quotes are thrown around throughout the entire talk, most of which come from Matthew Flinders, who, I'm going to be honest, stole the show:
"Democratic politics is all about compromise that can often get really messy" (Flinders);
"We [local governments] can't take risks anymore because there's no money, there's no staff and there's no skill" (Rotherham);
"The whole thing [Westminster] works by willy-jousting and testosterone... it's basically Hogwarts on the Thames and if you have to ask how something works then you probably weren't supposed to know in the first place" (Flinders)
A member of the audience clearly took his influence from Fight Club's Tyler Durden, preaching how the general public "work crazy hours everyday to buy stuff we don't need", pointing fingers and spitting all over the microphone with pure passion. There is the inevitable rant about changing the tax system to suit the incomes of the rich and the poor, the removal of tuition fees to restore young people's faith in politics/politicians, encouraging more women to become MP's and not be afraid it will interfere with family life, better education of the political system from as young as primary school (and not just at private schools) and the "need to improve the efficiency of how public money is spent" (Helen Pidd).
The current parliament is, for many commentators, far too rigid in it's approach to 'listening' to the people it serves to help and protect. There are so many forms of 'having your say' that get ignored by politicians because the point being made hasn't come to them through a formal letter or a petition slammed on their desk: graffiti, art, dance, photography, music. The 'Eton-ian Mafia', as Flinders called them, are paying for austerity with more austerity and every aspect of British life seems to be dark matter that's too complex for anyone to really understand in its entirety.