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British parliament drops ties from male dress code

AGORA moderator's picture

Britain’s House of Commons has made one of its rare concessions to modernity, with a decision that male members of parliament can attend debates without wearing a tie.

“Do I think it’s essential that a member wears a tie? No,” said the speaker John Bercow to MPs on Thursday, adding that opinions on his own ties “do tend to vary.” He said MPs would simply be expected to dress in “business-like attire”.

The move brings the Commons more closely in line with a move towards informal dress in offices, spearheaded by tech companies. By contrast Donald Trump was reported earlier this year to want White House to be “sharply dressed”, with men wearing wide, traditional ties. The Commons — which is known for its wood panels, green benches and often brutish atmosphere — has taken haphazard steps to update its procedures.

MPs are allowed to use phones in the chamber, but are still required to employ archaic language rules, including not referring to each other by name. Independent recommendations to allow breast-feeding during debates have not been implemented. There is no electronic voting.

In February the Commons clerks stopped wearing wigs, a move that Mr Bercow said would save money and “convey to the public a marginally less stuffy and forbidding image”.

There were cheers when he announced his latest decision on dress code, and several MPs removed their ties. The speaker, who was easily re-elected by MPs after the general election, has sought to make the chamber more important in Britain’s political life, for example by allowing more debates on issues of the day. In one conspicuous show of authority in February, he in effect blocked Mr Trump from making an address to the joint houses of parliament on account of his “racism and sexism”.

The speaker had authority on dress code, because ties were a convention, rather than a rule. Erskine May, the guide to parliamentary procedure, holds there is “no exact dress code. Convention has been that for men, a jacket and tie is expected; for women the equivalent level of formality should be observed.”

The issue of dress was raised at a meeting between Mr Bercow and a committee of MPs, including the Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, on Tuesday. Mr Brake was then allowed to ask a question without wearing a tie on Wednesday.

“Who says Brexit dominates the political agenda? My attempt to ask a [question] tieless has roused traditionalists from their slumber. Revolution!” he later tweeted jokingly. Peter Bone, a Conservative MP, said the change in dress code was an example of “dumbing down”.

Previously rulings on ties had been limited to hot summer days. Under the new convention, male MPs, and journalists in the press gallery, do still need to wear jackets.

Cross-posted from: https://www.ft.com/content/79a98244-5cda-11e7-9bc8-8055f264aa8b