Politics.co.uk Blog

Monday, 16 May 2011

Our prime ministerial enthusiasm falters

There's a sense at politics.co.uk towers that the prime minister is being wheeled out a bit – well, a bit too much.

Don't get us wrong. Normally there is nothing we love more than spending time picking over every word of David Cameron's finely-crafted speeches.

But today felt different. It was not the delivery, or the content, or even the length – excessive thought that was.

We just can't help but get the feeling that the government's spin doctors are running out of options on this one.

It's a mark of how desperate officials are that they're having to deploy their ultimate trump card, the PM, to get the message across.

Clearly health secretary Andrew Lansley is no longer considered sufficiently trusted, or liked, to get the job done.

Instead, if you want reach, go upstairs to No 10. That's been in the spinners' playbook for years. Now it feels like they're pushing their luck.

***Actually, there is one gripe at the content of Cameron's speech I need to get off my chest. Astonishingly, one of the reasons he cited for the need to reform the health service was a disparity in current quality – ie, postcode lotteries. Surely an NHS driven solely by competition would only exacerbate this?

Thursday, 5 May 2011

An alternative means of punishing politicians

In the 21st century, the chief means of punishing politicians is at the ballot box. It's highly possible this is exactly what voters are doing up and down the country today, as elections – and a referendum – give the people their chance to influence the fate of the country, and give those in power a kicking at the same time.

Every so often, individual politicians need to be punished too. We've seen the highly unusual spectacle of MPs being dispatched to prison for their expenses crimes in recent months. This was viewed as being a staggering extremity of punishment, although it may not have satisfied some members of the public.

Which is why they might be interested in a strange event taking place at St Andrews University in Scotland tomorrow.

Perhaps trying to distract themselves from the ongoing row over their Centre for Syrian Studies, experts from all over the world will read excerpts from Dante's Inferno which explain, in gory detail, what happens to those who are guilty of hypocrisy, deceit and corruption.

"Those being punished included false prophets, corrupt politicians, and hypocrites," the University explains.

"In the text, corrupt politicians – the old term 'barrators' is used for those who take money for political favours – are forced to stay submerged in a pool of burning tar. If any emerge, they are hooked out and tortured by devils.

"Hypocrites meanwhile are forced to walk in a circle wearing unbearably heavy cloaks, representing the appearances they kept up in life, and the burden of that is increased for eternity in hell."

Now that's what we call calling politicians to account. Maybe we should hold a referendum on introducing some of these measures?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A beginner's guide to PMQs

Here's a guest post from Hannah Brenton:


It will come as no surprise that watching prime minister's questions in person is quite a different experience from watching it on television.

While the camera's natural focus remains on whoever is speaking, it misses many of the more magical moments that make prime minister's questions such a gladiatorial contest between the parties – and the sparks of backbench humour that litter the repartee.

The flow of 'political theatre' is easier to appreciate. Instead of seeing the image on the screen cut between prime minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband, it's possible to read the body language of both men as they either angrily jump up to retort the other's point or casually lean against the despatch box in a sign of languid contempt.

Without the constraint of the camera angle, you can take in the entire panorama of the chamber and read the reactions across the backbenches.

As Mike Gapes spoke of the need to increase the number of allotment places available, one of his Labour colleagues laughed and began rubbing his belly.

The din from the benches is louder than it appears on the screen – and the noisy bellows of one MP seem to grow amorphously into a general chorus of jeers or cheers.

While it is clear on television that the Labour frontbench are heckling the prime minister, it is much more apparent from within the chamber the number of side retorts and continuous back-and-forth that takes place across the frontbench.

Today, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper persistently spoke over the prime minister's responses, which clearly grated on Cameron.

The camera's blind spot is the smaller reactions that create the humour and tension of the occasion - something the large number of sketch-writers and lobby journalists inside the chamber know very well.