It's where Parliament sits, when it does. That's where the laws of the country get settled. There's more to it than that in the grand scheme of things, but for a basic overview, that will probably suffice.
The people in the two houses of Parliament - the House of Commons and the House of Lords - are really, really not like you and me.
No, I'm not going to repeat some weird antisemitic conspiracy theory involving shape changing animals and mind control. I'm going to prove it with two of my favourite tools: Statistics and Anecdotes.
Lets start with the stats, shall we?
The average age of a person in the UK - as of 2020 - is 40.5 years of age. There's approximately 99 men per every 100 women, leading to women making up 50.25% of the population. Around about 87% of the UK is white, and 60% identifies as Christian of whatever denomination. (The next highest religious choice is None, which sits at around 26%.) The average household income annually is £29,800 - though we're going to see a graph about that later that might pique some interest. 7% of the children in the UK attend private schools (the cost of attendance of these schools is on average around £17,200 a year), and around 50% of those who leave compulsory schooling in the UK attend higher education afterwards (which costs approximately £18,000 a year, unless you went between 1962 and 1998, in which case it was free).
(Those statistics were pulled by a variety of sources, including IPSOS-MORI, the Office of National Statistics, and a dozen others; feel free to have a quick check around to check my maths if you feel I've flubbed them somewhere. If I'm wrong I'm not too proud to admit it.)
Let's take a look at the House of Commons.
The average age of an MP is 50 years - Mhairi Black of Renfrewshire is the youngest current MP at 22. Women make up 32.5% of the Commons, 211 of them versus 437 men. 92% of MPs are white. There's no religious data kept on MPs, though 2% of them are Muslim, compared to 5% of the population of the country. Their average household income is skewed by the fact that they are paid over £70,000 a year, plus expenses, plus pay for cabinet positions; though perhaps an inference to the income of the households they came from can be provided by the next statistic. 29% of MPs were educated in private schools - 45% of the Conservative party, significantly ess for other parties - and 89% of them are University graduates, with a full 23% of them holding a degree from Oxford or Cambridge. Due to their average age, this means that most of them attended University during the years when it was free to do so.
(These stats were almost all provided by the House of Commons itself.)
These are the people we vote for, with our weird old voting system that is long out of date and seriously needs renewal.
When something is described as a Representative Democracy, it means that citizens Democratically select people to Represent them in the political arena; but it seems that the people that get picked don't actually represent the population of this country, in several ways.
For example the Isle of Wight is represented by one Bob Seely, who isn't from here, doesn't spend much time here, and doesn't really respond to any letters sent to him by his constituents, so, you know.
Is this, perhaps, why decisions are often made that don't seem to be the best for the average person in this country? It might explain why our current political establishment has precious little empathy for anyone of an average income or a less than ideal life situation. The phrase "Out Of Touch" used to mean that individuals didn't understand the basic needs and pressures of life, before it got co-opted by people to try and undermine actual experts.
Statistics don't always tell the full story, admittedly. As promised, here's a little graph of the average household income in the UK; and you can see where the average is, and that is definitely not where the highest point of the graph sits.
Looks like the average gets shunted up quite a lot by those folks up near the other end, hmm? Which happens to include MPs, on their £70,000 a year.
But that's only one side of our government. The OTHER side is composed of the House of Lords, which is... a bit different.
The average age in the House of Lords is 70 years old - more than one of them were born in the 1920s. 27.6% of peers are women. The House of Lords is 94% white. Religion is actually weirdly statistically skewed in the Lords due to the fact that the Church of England gets to have 26 Bishops sit in the chamber just by virtue of being the apparent state religion. They're called the Lords Spiritual. That doesn't mean there can't be MORE Bishops - the rest have to earn their place the usual way. (By being nice to the government.) The Peers of the House of Lords do not receive a salary; they can claim £305 per day in expenses (or a reduced rate of £150 per day). Here come the big deviations; approximately 57% attended private school. 90% of them attended University, in a similar proportion to the House of Commons.
And, of course, we don't elect them. They get chosen; and often they are chosen by whoever is in government at the time. A recent example of this being news was when Jon Bercow, former Speaker of the House and well-known for annoying the current Tory party by insisting they not be disrespectful in the Commons, was snubbed for a peerage - despite almost every single former Speaker of the House being offered one in the past. Theresa May's husband, Boris Johnson's brother and Ian Botham the Cricketer were all offered seats, mind. Can't think why.
This does mean that governments can, effectively, try and seed a legacy of Lords that will be friendly to their cause later on down the road; loading the metaphorical deck with individuals that will vote the same way they do, or the same way that the party in general likes to vote.
And that's entirely putting aside the influence of government advisors, who are utterly unaccountable.
What does this mean for you and me? Well, it means that those that make the decisions are often fairly far removed from the decisions that they end up making. Humans tend to naturally have selective empathy that they reserve for those that are more like them than not, which is why the Prime Minister burned a £50 in front of a homeless man, amongst other charming little anecdotes.
Note, I am not forgiving them - because learning to have empathy and to think about how things affect others is a big part of being a decent human being. Deliberately not doing so is ignorant at best and malicious at worst.
It says a lot that the standardised uniform of the House of Commons used to include a black silk top hat. In fact, there's a whole anecdote (I TOLD YOU) about one man who brought his working class ethic into the Commons.
Keir Hardie was a gent. He helped form the Labour Party as it exists today. He stood for progressive taxes, women being allowed to vote, the abolition of the House of Lords and free education for all. This is a genuine campaign poster for when he ran for Parliament in 1892.
Notice how he is not wearing a top hat. Keir Hardie entered the Chamber wearing the cloth deerstalker hat, a normal working man's suit and a red tie, and caused a significant uproar by doing so. He faced many accusations of undermining the reputation of the House, by "wearing the cloth cap" of the working class.
Think about that, for a moment, as you take in the things that the man was campaigning for. An eight-hour work day - he wanted to bring us DOWN to an eight-hour work day. With the single exception of temperance reform (the temperance movement was a whole other thing), we can get behind that entire list, and frankly, laws have been put in place to cover almost all of it.
Things have improved somewhat since then, obviously. Most people don't wear hats into the Chamber these days; and while there is still an expectation of a certain level of decorum, and traditional behaviours undertaken by all in the House, we've got a far clearer idea of what is actually disrespectful these days.
So how do we change this? How do we make the House of Commons more like the majority of the country, and thus more representative, and more likely to work in the interests of most of us? And, it follows, more likely to promote Lords that agree with that agenda?
Unfortunately, we have to vote.
We have to get involved at a local level. I know that in some areas, that is harder than others. That some places are seen as safe seats for the incumbents. But without the work being put in, nothing will change. We need to attack political apathy wherever we find it. It is said that if voting changed anything they would ban it - but if it didn't change anything, why would they spend millions of pounds and a huge amount of effort trying to sway the process one way or another?
And we need to make that push now. We need to do it while the government is showing us who it really is - not in three years, when it can start to hide all its fuckups. Now.
Because representation matters, but so does action.