NAIMUN Guest Liveblog with Hayes Brown! The British House of Commons

by Ryan on February 18, 2012

Hayes interviews the director of the British House of Commons

This NAIMUN guest liveblog post was written by Hayes Brown, a nine-year Model UN veteran and former GCIMUN Secretary-General who writes for UN Dispatch and his international affairs blog, At Water’s Edge.

Walking into the British House of Commons committee, whose real-life counterpart features heckling and aggressive questioning of speakers, a certain lack of decorum was expected. What I found was indeed a raucous debate, but not on the committee’s stated topic of immigration policy; rather, delegates were debating which color to dye the rapporteur’s beard. I quickly realized that the chair was offering an incentive for the committee to donate to the conference’s chosen charity, and they had taken a break from regular debate.

Debate quickly returned to the bill on the floor on how to handle the riots that had spread across the country, as the committee is set in March 2011. One after another, I pulled the Director of the committee, Robert Silverstein, and two of the Rapporteurs, Jeff Carso and Julia Hubble, aside to talk about the way that junior staff joins the NAIMUN team.

Robert, a sophomore majoring in International Politics, told me that he actively sought out NAIMUN, as he was an avid participant in high school. It wasn’t hard to find. As he told me, and Julia and Jeff eagerly backed up, the Georgetown International Relations Association, the umbrella group that covers NAIMUN, the college conference NCSC, andGeorgetown’s competitive Model UN team, is a huge presence on campus.

The floor of the British House of Commons

Every fall, GIRA holds a large beginning of the year meeting, and hits the ground running pushing the need for NAIMUN and NCSC staffers. Before new recruits walk away from that first meeting, they’re handed applications to join the team. Many of these new staffers come from theSchoolofForeign Service, like Robert and Jeff. There is plenty of room, however, for staffers with other foci, like Julia, a freshman English major. As she said, after her first meeting she knew she wanted to be involved but marveled at the size of the institution. She quickly came to appreciate the professionalism that is necessary to run such a large conference.

GIRA’s recruiting across campus is massive, Jeff, a freshman majoring in Science, Technology, and International Affairs, interviewed, with the initial meeting held in one of the largest auditoriums on campus. As such, not everyone who applies to join NAIMUN gets accepted. Those who do, though, take part in training from October until the conference gavels into session in February. Larger sessions, Julia explained, covered matters like logistics, the basics of Parliamentary Procedure, and handling a 3,000 delegate conference. Smaller meetings, among the dais and committee groups, were also held to give a more nuanced training to the staffers, discussing committee specifics and dais roles and responsibilities. Julia, for example, relished the informal interaction with the delegates her position lends, while Robert’s affinity for the rules of committee was evident in talking to him.

The dais staff of the British House of Commons

Running a non-traditional committee like the British House of Commons requires more prep work than United Nations-based bodies. For example, the House of Commons wouldn’t be able to run under a pure Parliamentary Procedure framework, ironically enough. As such, Chair Scott Stirrett wrote in several extra rules and procedures to make the committee more realistic. Heckling of other delegates during speeches is allowed by the dais, and internal caucuses set policy for the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat parties. Robert, as the Director, took on the responsibility of keeping the body on track with Parliamentary Procedure, while Scott handled the special rules.

The committee itself is, like many of the committees at this conference, a majority static committee, with a few dynamic crisis elements added in to move the committee along. One of those elements was decided far in advance of the start, with Jeff and another staffer being included among the delegates as “plants”, taking part in committee debate. Jeff played a Conservative member of the House, and was scheduled to take part in a leadership election. Rather than going as planned, Jeff found himself elected Prime Minster. “It’s nice to know that NAIMUN is dynamic”, Jeff told me as he reentered Parliament, not just for the delegates, but for the staffers.

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