Parliament Week tells Stories of Democracy with seven days of learning and fun

By Culture24 Reporter | 26 October 2011
A photo of a man in a suit speaking in a political chamber
Parliament Week 2011 arrives hot on the heels of the 50th anniversary of weekly House of Commons set-to Prime Minister's Question Time
This week marks the 50th anniversary of Prime Minister's Question Time, the weekly institution in the House of Commons which has witnessed all manner of wittily cerebral clashes during decades of debate in the famous chambers.

It's also the 50th anniversary of Private Eye, the incendiary typewriter-print magazine which mocks and scorns the workings of politicians and their world in staggering satirical detail.

But beyond these better-known features of domestic democracy, it's the build-up to Parliament Week, an inaugural campaign which aims to allow everyone to build a better understanding of the way the people and processes operating from Westminster have affected our world and can shape our future.

Taking the theme of Stories of Democracy, it invites people to celebrate a history which began with a humble act about Norfolk's woollen cloth industry in 1497 but went on to oversee the more controversial trial of Mary Queen of Scots, petitions disputing swathes of land and the abolition of the Slave Trade.

A key piece of legislation allowed coffee to be made in the Palace of Westminster back in 1681, and there were plots (the aptly-timed arrest of Guy Fawkes, recorded in Parliament on November 5 1605), assassinations (Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, shot dead in the House of Commons Lobby in 1812) and proclamations to royalty.

The Commons chamber even resurrected itself after being destroyed in 1941 during a prolonged campaign of wartime bombings, although the best tales are often to be found far from its hallowed gates.

A peek on the campaign's public photo gallery reveals a huge statue of former First Minister of Scotland Donald Dewar in Glasgow ("I remember him being a good chap," adds the contributor) and, somewhat poignantly, pictures from the frontline of crammed protests against former Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi.

A stack of opportunities for schools and youngsters includes a Young People’s Question Time on Monday (October 31), online games, resource packs with an eye on MPs visiting communities and insights from Amnesty International.

There's a brilliant YouTube film telling the story of Parliament in 180 seconds – surely the perfect opener for new learners and anyone facing a lack of time – and a playful animated version only takes slightly longer, clocking in at little more than three minutes.

Free events taking place across the country take in venues ranging from the Waterside Theatre in Derry to the People's History Museum in Manchester and National Museum Cardiff.

In an intriguing twist on another vital forum for scrutiny, David Dimbleby and his BBC1 Question Time panellists will be answering their audience inside the Palace of Westminster for the first time ever on November 3.

Bath MP Don Foster called the week "a great new initiative" and urged his constituents to take part.

"For centuries, Parliamentary democracy has influenced individuals, organisations and business throughout the city, and yet, for many people, Parliament's work remains unfamiliar," he said.

"Parliament Week is for everyone, exploring how democracy affects citizens and how they can participate in it."

  • Culture24 is running a series of fantastic features to accompany Parliament Week 2011. Visit our Parliament Week page to enjoy them.
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