After MPs grilled energy company executives, have select committees become show trials?


Yesterday, senior executives from the Big Six energy firms were grilled by MPs from the Energy and Climate Change select committee. But too many politicians simply use select committees to throw insults at business leaders. They may enjoy hectoring chief executives, and it gives them a rare opportunity to go viral on social media, but in so doing they make themselves look petty and tarnish the reputation of Parliament. And it disguises a difficult truth – that many select committee witnesses have done far more to promote human wellbeing than our MPs. It was, after all, politicians like Ed Miliband who voted through the Climate Change Act, and consumers are now suffering the consequences. Politicians would do better to return select committees to their proper function of scrutiny, not the dishing of extra-judicial abuse. Alex Singleton is author of The PR Masterclass, available in December from Wiley.


Select committees have started to flex their muscles in recent years, as they showed yesterday with their grilling of the Big six energy firms. That’s good news. Parliament sits at the heart of our democracy and rightly seeks to hold powerful interests accountable. Doubtless some MPs play to the gallery – and in some instances they badly overstep the mark, as they did with their treatment of Dr David Kelly – but British democracy is better served by strong and robust select committees than it is by supine ones. Public disillusion with politics flows primarily from a belief that the political process favours the interests of the powerful. So it can only help to restore faith in politics to see Margaret Hodge MP challenging BBC bureaucrats about excessive levels of executive pay. In fact we need stronger committees – with more resources and staff so they can perform their roles more effectively. Guy Lodge is associate director at the Institute for Public Policy Research.