Sunday, 24 August 2014

Leave the MPs on holiday...


"Recall Parliament" goes the cry without really any consideration as to what Parliament is going to do when it arrives back in London. Dragged untimely from holidays, from rare time spent with friends and family away from politics, the MPs will be in a grumpy mood. So when they're presented with a motion that doesn't authorise anything, doesn't extend powers or create new law, it's understandable that the response is a combination of grandstanding and grumpiness.

Yet again the business of our legislature is determined more by what it looks like - "how it plays out in the media" - rather than by whether it is doing anything of any real substance and purpose by holding a debate about the Middle East, ISIS, Gaza or indeed any other topic dominating the headlines.

My preference is for the legislature to meet less often rather than more often - after all the full time presence of MPs in London only encourages them to meet together and, in doing so, manufacture more laws in the interests of MPs and those who lobby MPs rather than the wider public interest. For sure it isn't pitched to us that way. The media savvy woman from the charity or think tank on Radio Four explains how the new rules will protect children or save lives or stop hate crime or prevent some humanitarian disaster. And we - along with the MPs - lap it up.

The matter of whether we bomb terrorists in Syria - or is it Iraq - isn't really any concern of the legislature except in so far as that legislature has a say in appointing the government and votes to allow that government to have the money to buy the bombs and fuel the aircraft. Meeting together to discuss the situation achieves nothing other than for the more pompously self-informed politicians to twang their braces as they intone sombre speeches while others nod as they admire the sagacity of those braces-twangers.

The truth is that not only does recalling parliament not serve any valuable purpose, it is likely to draw the attention of government from the practical task of considering what to do and to focus it instead on the pathetic media circus that would accompany the recalled parliament. Hordes of journalists and pundits who match the MPs blow for blow in their know-all attitude. And battalions of suited think-tankers - from places with names like th Royal United Services Institute or the International Affairs Academy - swarm over the airwaves feeding their undergraduate essays to MPs so as they (the MPs that is) can sound like they have the faintest idea about the situation 'on the ground'.

It's likely too that, given this is the Middle East, there will be protests and representatives of the protestors - often emigres from the places now ridden with war, pillage and rape. The media will add this to the hopper of opinion - it won't point to any solution but it adds a 'human dimension' to the debate and shows, without question, that something must be done. The problem is that it doesn't tell us what that 'something' might be - diplomacy, military aid, bombing raids, troops...we don't know but something.

Soon though the debate - as well as leading to new rules and new powers for the friends of politicians - will begin to be portrayed by the media in terms of what it means for future political events here in the UK. The words are still frowningly concerned with a terrible humanitarian tragedy but the political tactics become a case of getting one over on the other side. Did the Prime Minister take a few hours to spend a little time with his family? Can we criticise the Foreign Minister for failing to meet with some group or other? And the BBC or ITN or Sky person with the Downing Street door behind them will spend five minutes of prime time news explaining what all this might mean for the polls or for next year's general election.

"Recall Parliament" they say - not because it's a good idea (any more than dragging people back off their holidays for no real purpose other than a media story is a good idea) but because it looks like something is being done, like the powers are taking the matter seriously and therefore that, in some magical way, we are getting better government. The reality is Parliament has no role in this, would contribute nothing new or helpful to the debate and would shift the emphasis from an appropriate response to the usual, pathetic media circus.

Leave the MPs on holiday, let the ministers have some time with their family and treat the business of government as if it were the business of government rather than a source of endless media tittle-tattle and gossip.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Cllr Cooke

I thought you meant for good ...