I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.Not much has changed over the last 2,700 years.
- Hesoid, circa 700BC (possibly)
Obviously, the previous sentence is complete crap. Lots of things have changed. But nostalgia for a non-existent utopian past is definitely still with us.
Philip Cowley, reader in parliamentary government at the University of Nottingham, has written a couple of articles on Comment is Free about how this nostalgia affects our view of the House of Commons. His latest is well worth taking the time to read.
Much as I loathe Blair, I have to say that I think he's got a point. There seems to be an awful lot of harking back to "the good old days" going on at the moment but those good old days never did exist. Blair has undoubtedly attempted to sideline parliament and his instincts are clearly undemocratic but the notion that parliament was the very model of representative democracy B.B. (before Blair) just doesn't stand up.
In fairness, the dissatisfaction many people feel towards today's MPs is about more than just nostalgia. For me, and I'm sure for many others too, parliament's failure to hold Blair to account for Iraq was an unforgivable abdication of responsibility. On a matter of the utmost importance, too many Labour MPs put their loyalty to Blair and the party above their responsibility to the nation and too many Conservative MPs were more concerned with political positioning than with doing the right thing.
More widely, in the information age with the Commons televised, 24 hour news channels, TheyWorkForYou and the rest, the public has the opportunity to be much better informed about the workings of parliament than was possible in the past. This means that the weaknesses and failings of the House of Commons are more visible than ever before. This, of course, adds unwarranted credibility to feelings of nostalgia but it really wasn't a whole lot better back then.
On the positive side, this new information age presents a genuine opportunity for real change too. As Cowley says, there is much that is wrong with the current system and much that can and should be improved. Stage one in the process should be to make sure we're not looking back at the golden years through rose tinted spectacles.