Sitting in meetings when you have nothing to contribute, and where the subject matter is of only superficial interest is an experience that many of us can relate to. Some meetings cover a number of topics and if some are outside ones area of expertise, then using a smartphone or tablet device to check out emails may be a good use of time. The decision by Nigel Mills MP to use his time to play Candy Crush Saga could be argued as being a bit less constructive than attending to work emails, but to be fair to Mr Mills, he may be one of those MPs who do not have a huge mailbag. His behaviour led to responses from other MPs such as one of Mr Mills’ senior Tory colleagues, Sir Edward Leigh, who suggested that Nigel was only trying to “keep himself awake” during a boring committee meeting. This morning the Guardian is also playing down the seriousness of Mr Mills ‘offence’ pointing out that other MPs have been caught out doing much more destructive things whilst sitting getting bored in the debating chamber of the House of Commons. Whilst Parliamentary officials are pursuing the person who illegally took a photo of Mr Mills playing his game and MPs are commending their colleague for being awake despite his obvious boredom, could we use this furore to have a proper review into what and how Parliament and indeed other organisations use their time and how useful certain meetings and processes are.
A few years ago I was involved in a Committee which brought together a number of leaders from the District Councils in East Sussex. One of those was Lewes District Council. The Council Leader rarely attended the meeting himself (or bothered to send his apologies), but he did work part time for the local MP when not leading the Council. In a moment of pure farce the Committee received a letter from the MP asking for an account of what the Committee actually did and questioning if it was simply a talking shop. Because Mr Baker was too busy to sign the letter himself, he asked his Office Manager to pp the letter for him. Here we had a Council Leader signing a letter that asked what went on in a meeting he apparently did not have time to attend, nor could be bothered to send his apologies for. My own experience was that the meeting proved to be very useful in raising issues that individually the Councils might not have dealt with alone, but only by participating could one really ensure that the discussion was worthwhile. If everyone had been sitting back and playing computer games, the value of the meeting would have emptied very quickly.
The way in which Parliament operates is something that many of us would like to see changed. Legally taken photos and videos of a debating chamber that is 90% empty when important debates are supposed to be taking place simply adds to the idea that Parliament is an irrelevant spent force. MPs playing video games to keep themselves from falling asleep clearly won’t help. I recall when Caroline Lucas first arrived in Parliament and raised a number of questions about how the place operated, proposing a number of changes. She was roundly criticised by old timers with the experience of Mr Leigh and of course nothing has changed. With 4 months to go until the General Election is now the time for all of Parliament to focus on getting out of the hole that has been dug over decades. If they can create a new way of doing business perhaps more of us will be inspired to vote?