This was the week when the Westminster Parliament resumed after the official summer holiday of the British political classes.
Probably for perverse reasons, the most interesting aspect of watching parliamentary proceedings is the Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQT). This session of Parliament occurs on a Wednesday morning. It was introduced during the administration of the former (New) Labour leader Tony Blair.
The intention of PMQT is that it gives the opportunity for the Prime Minister (PM) of the day to be asked, and be able to respond to, questions of immediate political concern. The intention is that questions can come from the floor of the house with, of course, the PM being forewarned about them. The whole is meant to impress the idea that a PM is open to and able to answer relevant questions affecting the politics of the hour.
The appearance of spontaneity and transparency belies the reality. In truth the PM, having been made aware of the questions to be forthcoming in the house, has the opportunity to prepare for them. Indeed, the truth is murkier. The questions that are asked, certainly on the government’s side of the chamber, are formulated in such a way that the PM can score political points to the benefit of himself and the government and to the detriment of the opposition. Answers to the questions from the opposition benches are, however, another matter.
In seeking to ensure that fairness – if not the due democratic process – is observed, the leader of the opposition has the right of first reply on a number of questions asked of the PM and the answers given by the latter. This procedure sometimes leads to the kind of political thrust and parry that political debate should be about. It should be the time in parliament when openness and honesty should be visible and the integrity of the parliament respected. Sadly, and all too often, the process results in the very opposite happening.
PMQT can easily degenerate into a wholesale slanging match: questions are blatantly fixed and pre-disposed to biased answers; back-benchers on the government side resort to framing questions in order to curry favour with the PM or raise peculiar issue concerning their personal constituencies; opposition benches vent their collective spleen with wide-ranging invective across a broad range of issues that often have little to do with the particular matter under debate.
So too, the PM and the leader of the opposition, in occupying the greatest number of speaking minutes, also display the highest levels of anger and the deepest hues of red on their visages, as they harangue each other across the despatch box. In turn, the Speaker of the House frequently resorts to verbal violence for the purpose of restoring a modicum of decency and order to the proceedings.
In all of the foregoing, it becomes somewhat inevitable that the PM does not get around to, or evades, answering the question that has been put. As well, he uses the time for what should be legitimate questioning of both the government and the opposition as a platform for disparaging opposition parties and policies. The present PM has been most adept at mastering this craft.
Of course, the House of Commons has been spared this drama (or is it comedy) during this week as the leaders of each of the three main British political parties have not been in attendance in the house.
The leaders of the three main British political parties can be likened to the three musketeers (where or where is the d’Artagnan equivalent – or do we see such a figure in Nigel Farrage who, as I write, is making his way north of the English Independence border?). This week they have been in Scotland, lending their self-avowed political importance and the weight and sharpness of their finely-honed swords to the “Better Together” side of the question of Scottish independence from the rest of the UK. Such ignominy!
There is something ironic, if not pathetic, about these three leaders seeking to give the appearance of togetherness on an issue that is about to cleave a proud Celtic nation down the middle. This is especially poignant when it is considered that at least one of them, David Cameron – the PM and the leader of the Conservative Party (so heavy and clumsy in cutting-up the opposition on the floor of the house) – has repeatedly stated that the matter of Scottish independence, or otherwise, is one for the people of Scotland to decide. Perhaps we have not learned the lessons of PMQT!
All of the foregoing was brought to my immediate memory and attention on again reading a section of a work called Pathways to Peace, which reads as follows:
Listen and be listened to so that all speakers can be heard; speak and be spoken to in a respectful manner.
Develop or deepen mutual understanding; learn about the perspective of others and reflect on one’s own view,
discover new insights.
The above comes from the Fourth Parliament of World Religions, held in July 2004, which brought together thousands of people in the Spanish city of Barcelona. The event staged various activities, all of which enjoined the same principles as mentioned in the above verse.
It is to the credit of the debate about Scottish independence that these principles seem to have been observed – on both sides of the debate. It is to be hoped that the same principles might one day come to be observed, in the practice as well as in the principle, in the House of Commons of the British Parliament.
Whilst reading through a number of comments that have been made about this blog, I came across several requests for me to include articles written by others. I am pleased that other writers may deem the blog worthy of literary co-occupation.
However, I wish to make to it clear that this blog consists only of those articles written by myself. In this way I can be personally responsible for the directions taken by the articles and for the specific content of them.
So, my thanks to each of those who have requested space to incorporate their personal writing within this blog. I trust, however, that you will understand my reasons for refusing the requests.