Few things illustrate the impoverishment of our public life better than the weekly charade of Prime Ministerial Questions. Quite what the participants think we, their bosses, get from this exercise is hard to fathom.
Perhaps we are meant to be bowled over by the scintillating wit on show? Wallace and Gromit? Poisonous fungus? Shadow chancellors who allegedly can’t count? Oh please stop before my ribs collapse under the strain of so much mirth.
Then we have the subjects covered.
Bankers. Coastguards. EMA. DLA. Street parties for the royal wedding. Security. Armed Forces. BSkyB. Bonfire of the Quangos. Hold on was that royal wedding? Yep – give me strength.
Then there’s the questions that are so obviously planted they have their own leaves, root systems and howler monkeys in the canopy.
‘Would the Prime Minister agree with me that such and such policy illustrates how wonderful and visionary a leader he is? And what an absolute shower the other lot are?’
Can he? Of course he can.
No less woeful are the heavily rehearsed opposition questions that plod towards their inevitable conclusion with all the joyful tread of a patient heading to root canal work.
I watched the replay of today’s PMQs on the rather wonderful Democracy Live website because I heard such completely different takes on what had happened. I couldn’t find any convincing evidence either way. I didn’t see much winning going on and I suspect the only losers really were us, the electorate.
I’m a much greater fan of select committees but their work, by and large and the odd American banking superstar aside, rarely hits the headlines. But even these more forensic tests of the capability of ministerial teams sometimes get nowhere near establishing what is happening and why.
I’ve often wondered why. In part I think it’s a function of what all of us who follow a particular profession or hobby do. We invent our own language. In part to communicate more easily with our co-professionals or hobbyists but also to exclude people outside our magic circle. Watching and listening to professional politicians suggest to me that they are far more comfortable talking with each other than they ever are talking with us ordinary joes.
So it’s no surprise then that when politicians encounter sentient life outside homo sapiens politiciensis they often come spectacularly unstuck. A highly successful local politician once said to me the problem with democracy was the democracy bit. Otherwise it works fine.
The experience of Michael Gove today illustrates the problems that politicians get into when they make themselves available to be challenged by us, the great unwashed.
If you haven’t caught it it’s well worth listening to here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12171281. Don’t focus on the rights and wrongs of the issue being discussed. Instead listen for the tone and the language used.
It’s an interesting illustration of how the very language a politician choses to use sends signals – not necessarily intended – about how they see themselves in relation to the ‘interlocutor’. The same tone was used by the PM to denigrate the opposition front bench particularly the Shadow Chancellor.
I often wonder if our political class has arrived from a different country. Perhaps we should just get them to use Norman French and leave the rest of us to express ourselves in the Anglo-Saxon. At least we would all know where we were then.
Of course no discussion of the subject of political nasty encounters of a real person kind would be complete without this classic. Enjoy the memories.