Held in contempt

What's wrong with the House of Commons?

By Hannah White

Held in contempt


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  • Paperback

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5668-6
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Published Date: April 2022
  • BIC Category: Political Theory, Politics, Politics & government, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / Democracy, POLITICAL SCIENCE / World / European, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Process / General, Society & social sciences / Politics & government, Society & social sciences / Political structures: democracy, Parliamentary & Legislative Practice


Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular, is increasingly held in contempt by the British public. From attending parties during the Covid-19 lockdown to taking payment for lobbying, MPs undermine their credibility by acting as if the rules they set for others should not apply to them. Still far from representative of the country they govern from the ancient and crumbling Palace of Westminster, MPs appear detached from the lives led by their constituents - conducting their business according to rules and procedures that have become too complex for many of them to understand.

Hannah White offers a perceptive critique of the shortcomings of the House of Commons, arguing that the reputation of the Commons is in a downward spiral - compounded by government attempts to side-line parliament during Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic. At a time of populist challenge to representative democracy, this book is an essential rallying cry for Members of Parliament to reform the House of Commons - equipping it to fulfil its important role as a cornerstone of our democracy - or see it fade into irrelevance.


As featured on BBC Radio 4's Week in Westminster, World at One and Bloomberg Westminster

'Hannah White casts an expert and forensic eye at how parliament works, or often doesn't. Her conclusion that only a crisis will drive change is realistic - and a spur to all those who want reform, both inside and out, to act.'
Ben Page, CEO, Ipsos Mori

'Based on her extensive experience at the heart of parliament, Hannah White paints a compelling picture of what's gone wrong with our democracy in general and the Palace of Westminster in particular. A decaying building housing a decayed and democratically bankrupt political system, unrepresentative of the voters' choices, cut off from the wider country and ensnared with procedures and traditions which have no place in a modern democracy. As White so powerfully demonstrates, the UK urgently needs democratic renewal, a fairer voting system and a system of government in which people can have trust and confidence.'
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton, Pavilion

'This is an essential book for anyone who is, has been, or wants to be an MP and, in fact, anyone who wants to know why the House of Commons is held in such low regard today. Hannah White thoroughly examines why public trust in the House of Commons is now so low - perfectly encapsulated, as she points out, by the inability of MPs and Ministers to decide how to restore and renew the Palace of Westminster as it literally crumbles around them. The question for those who are elected after they've read the book is what is to be done about this sad state of affairs?'
Baroness Nicky Morgan, Former Conservative MP

'Brexit and the pandemic have shown both how important parliamentary procedure is and how ripe it is for reform. Hannah White argues persuasively that for the public to have confidence in the Commons, they should stand a chance of understanding how it works.'
Karen Bradley, Conservative MP and Chair of Procedure Committee

'Takes you inside parliament for a vivid explanation of how our politics works.or sometimes doesn't work.'
Adam Fleming, BBC Senior Political Correspondent

'The UK parliament may not be under physical attack like the US Congress in January 2021 but it is assailed on all sides and under serious threat. Hannah White throws a light on the dangers and the ways to rescue it. Anyone who cares about parliamentary democracy should read this book.'
Gary Gibbon, Political Editor, Channel 4 News

'If you have ever wondered why some politicians think it's ok to break or bend the rules or have asked yourself what it is about the culture of Westminster that allows some of its inhabitants to think of themselves as a class apart , then this is the book for you. Hannah White is one of our finest commentators on all things Westminster.'
Carolyn Quinn, journalist, BBC

'In her important new book, Held in Contempt, Hannah White details the parlous state of the UK parliament. She does so with the even temper and forensic skill of someone who used to be a clerk in the House of Commons and is now the deputy director of the Institute for Government.'
Edward Docx, Times Literary Supplement

'Held in contempt is a book for those who care about the UK Parliament and those who do not. It is a must read for students of British politics and a good read for the public too - pacey, engaging, and clearly articulated. A former House of Commons Clerk, Hannah White makes an impassioned and substantiated argument: MPs, individually and collectively, as well as the Government should, in the face of declining trust in the institution, reflect on and change the House's governance, the form and format of its many written and unwritten rules, and their own behaviour. The "downward spiral" must be stemmed.'
Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, University of Edinburgh

'This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about the future of our parliamentary democracy. Hannah White offers an incisive account of why Parliament matters, why it is under threat, and what needs to change if we are to prevent "the inevitable decline of our key democratic institution."'
Robert Saunders, Reader in British History, Queen Mary, University of London

'We must hope that MPs read it. And since good governance needs an independent and effective legislature, ministers would be wise to act on it too.'
Dominic Grieve, Prospect Magazine

An eloquent and impartial critique of the arcane mechanics of Westminster, Dr Hannah White's debut book is a timely and fantastic tool for unpicking the workings of Parliament.'
Karen Bradley MP, The House Magazine


1 Side-lined
2 Unrepresentative
3 Arcane
4 Exceptionalist
5 Decaying
Conclusion: A parliament to be proud of



Hannah White is the Deputy Director of the London-based think tank the Institute for Government. She is a regular commentator on Westminster and Whitehall for radio and television in the UK and internationally, and writes for publications including The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and Prospect. She received an OBE in the 2020 Birthday Honours for services to the Constitution.

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