2018-10-10 20:16:19 UTC
up their act.
In 1943, during a debate over whether to rebuild the House of Commons
chamber, the cradle of British democracy, after it had been destroyed during
the Blitz, Winston Churchill observed, "We shape our buildings and
afterwards our buildings shape us."
Seventy-five years later, if the state of Westminster is any indication,
there is a rot at the core of British politics. The Houses of Parliament are
again in a desperate state of disrepair. But that's not all. Members of
Parliament are being warned about rules of decorum after vomit and used
condoms were found by cleaners tasked with tidying up Westminster offices,
according to a report in the Sunday Times.
he national newspaper revealed that cleaners have grown so exasperated with
raucous parliamentarians and their staffs that they have complained to the
"The House of Commons provides offices to MPs and their staff to enable them
to carry out their parliamentary duties," a spokesperson for the chamber
said in a statement provided to The Washington Post. "Any use of such
facilities must be in support of those duties, as specified in the Members'
Handbook and Code of Conduct. Any reported misuse of facilities will be
taken seriously and investigated."
Commons authorities are weighing a new "service agreement" enforcing
standards for the use of professional space, and applying penalties for the
"worst culprits," the Times reported.
"It's the type of behavior you would expect from students enjoying freshers'
week, not MPs and their staff," a senior source told the newspaper,
referring to the week-long, alcohol-fueled rite of passage for new students
at British universities. "But cleaners are being confronted with vomit and
used condoms in offices used by MPs and their staff. The cleaners are not
there to clear up after their debauchery and this is not an appropriate use
of office space."
As the #MeToo movement shines a light on the dark corners where sex and
power mingle, the U.K. Parliament has been one among many case studies in
how highbrow politics has been conducted alongside disreputable misbehavior.
The mess that lawmakers have made of their workspaces has additional
significance because of the sex scandal that gripped Westminster last year.
Perhaps the most notable case was that of Michael Fallon, the defense
secretary and member of the Conservative Party who resigned in November
following allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior, including placing
his hand on a female journalist's knee at a 2002 dinner.
As accusations cascaded, Theresa May, the Conservative prime minister,
called for new grievance procedures last fall, saying the existing system
lacked "teeth." Reforms also included a crackdown on free-flowing,
subsidized alcohol in the Houses of Parliament - the cost of which has been
a subject of petitions and freedom of information requests.
According to the Times, a total of 11 bars, restaurants and cafeterias in
the Commons sell alcohol. A pint of beer goes for as little as £3.40, about
Scrutiny of the drinking culture escalated when the former manager of the
infamous Sports and Social bar said last November that she had been
repeatedly propositioned for sex by members of Parliament. One had allegedly
groped her and tried to follow her home, according to British media.
A plaque that once hung on the wall of the drab haunt of parliamentarians
read: "The Code of the Man Cave."
"What happens here stays here!" it added. "Violators will be shot -
survivors will be shot again."
The Sports and Social bar closed in December following a fight between two
members of staff. A member of Parliament, who had previously resigned from
the Labour Party after head-butting Conservative rivals in 2012, was again
arrested after a brawl at the watering hole in 2013.
The bar reopened last month under a new name, The Woolsack, and with reduced
The House of Commons, while austere, is hardly a placid place. Vigorous
debate, often marked by shouting and name-calling, erupts in the House of
Commons during Prime Minister's Questions, or PMQs, a session every
Wednesday in which the prime minister stands and fields inquiries from other
The format lends itself to the sort of direct, bare-knuckled exchange absent
from American legislative debate, where members of Congress have an easier
time evading questions from one another. But it has its downsides. In 2014,
John Bercow, the speaker of the House of Commons, said the "histrionics and
cacophony of noise" dissuaded some lawmakers from participating.
Still, these debates unfold against the backdrop of frescoed walls and gold
sculptures adorning the Houses of Parliament. This grandeur appears at odds
with the degraded behavior that has leaked into public view over the last
Some see matters differently. Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian's chief
culture writer, observed that the architectural features - "our buildings,"
as Churchill put it - have reinforced the bad behavior, helping to make
sense of why vomit and male contraception could collect in Westminster
As she documented the hazardous conditions plaguing Parliament, from
asbestos to sewage leaks, she argued that the space is "all too obviously a
remnant of a predemocratic age."
"It was designed when women were, at best, crinoline-wearing spectators of
parliamentary life, consigned to the public gallery," Higgins wrote. "With
its chilly colonnades of sculptures of male politicians, its heavy,
ecclesiastical furnishings and gentlemen's-club atmosphere, it provides the
perfect stage-set for Britain's 'very aggressive, very masculine, very
power-hoarding democracy,' as political scientist Matthew Flinders put it."
A record 208 women members of Parliament were elected to the House of
Commons in the 2017 general election, accounting for 32 percent of the