Politics.co.uk Blog

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Kerry McCarthy (and her iPad) make Commons history

There have been many landmarks in parliament's long history. Cromwell raised a few eyebrows. Those sensational debates between Disraeli and Gladstone excited the fledging press gallery. Churchill barked on, talking about "their finest hour". Now we have another milestone for that great pantheon of parliamentary landmarks.

All those great parliamentarians have one thing in common. One thing that they all failed to achieve. One box they did not tick. None of them, indeed no MP ever, is thought to have used an iPad as a prompt for a speech in the House of Commons before last night.

This is the feat of the uber-techno-savvy Kerry McCarthy, a former Labour whip who has been feted as the nearest thing Labour has to Steve Jobs. No doubt the Apple supremo will be proud when (or perhaps if?) he hears the news of his product's latest breakthrough. He may be disappointed she didn't use the iPad 2.

MPs have been angling for permission to use more computer technology in the chamber for several years now. The advent of smart phones has made it possible to furtively keep up to date, but until recently even twittering MPs from the chamber were treated with something close to disgust. The problem was fixed last week when the Commons' procedural committee announced it was endorsing the use of iPads in the chamber. It's a big breakthrough for MPs. McCarthy took the opportunity with both hands last night.

This has left those who have stuck to the old ways rather out of the loop when it comes to fast-moving developments. It takes so long to catch the Speaker's eye, they complain, that they can't possibly be expected to know what's going on at the same time. Perhaps there was a reluctance to admit that being in the Commons chamber is bo-ring. Or perhaps it's just that this is the start of a trend which will take a bit of time to get going. Can you see Sir Peter Tapsell with an iPad? No, me neither.

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