Dramas at Westminster

Select committees and the quest for accountability

By Marc Geddes

Dramas at Westminster


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3680-0
  • Pages: 192
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: November 2019
  • BIC Category: British Politics, Social & cultural anthropology, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Comparative Politics, Society & social sciences / Politics & government, Parliamentary & Legislative Practice, Society & social sciences / Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography
  • Series: Political Ethnography


Based on unprecedented access to the UK Parliament, this book challenges how we understand and think about accountability between government and Parliament.

Drawing on three months of research in Westminster, and over forty-five interviews, this book focuses on the everyday practices of Members of Parliament and officials to reveal how parliamentarians perform their scrutiny roles. Some MPs become specialists while others act as lone wolves; some are there to try to defend their party while others want to learn about policy. Amongst these different styles, chairs of committees have to try to reconcile these interpretations and either act as committee-orientated catalysts or attempt to impose order as leadership-orientated chieftains. All of this pushes and pulls scrutiny in competing directions, and tells us that accountability depends on individual beliefs, everyday practices and the negotiation of dilemmas. In this way, MPs and officials create a drama or spectacle of accountability and use their performance on the parliamentary stage to hold government to account.

Dramas at Westminster: Select committees and the quest for accountability offers the most up-to-date and detailed research on committee practices in the House of Commons, following a range of reforms since 2010.


'Dramas at Westminster tells us a great deal about the public and hidden power of select committees at a time when scrutiny is more vital than it has ever been.'
LSE Review of Books

'Geddes's research stands in a line of powerful and important works that have begun to change our understanding of how Westminster works, what MPs do, how they behave and, most importantly, the kind of 'roles' they perform. '
Democratic Audit UK

'A lively and empathetic book.'
Parliaments, Estates and Representation


1 The quest for accountability
2 Perspectives on Parliament
3 Performing scrutiny
4 Catalysts versus chieftains
5 Hidden servants
6 Scenes of scrutiny
7 Building webs of scrutiny
8 Dramas at Westminster

Annex: Methodological reflections


Marc Geddes is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Edinburgh

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