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June 8, 2011 / mrespiers

What can be learned from Prime Minister’s Questions?

I have finished my first MA unit and will post about it again when I get some feedback on my first assignment. In the mean time I will use this space to articulate some thoughts on education, Sociology and a few other bits and pieces.

I just happened to stumble upon today’s PMQs. PMQs are  a great tradition and spectacle where our elected representatives probe and scrutinise our leader, or at least that is what the MPs and dewy-eyed historians would have us believe. I missed the beginning and truly hope it was a throwback to gladitorial exchanges of the past but, the 20 minutes I caught (of the allotted 30 minutes per week) went something like this:

A question that asked the PM to praise Chevron on it’s health and safety record following the recent explosion that killed four people in Pembrokeshire. Read that again. Yes it does say ‘praise’. One person remains in a critical condition in hospital.

Two questions of my own sprang to mind – 1, Is this an example of a massive multinational spin operation in motion?  and  2, Is this a good use of PMQs?

In case you are wondering the PM did indeed praise Chevron and their health and safety record.

The MP for Rugby then asked if the PM would wish the home nations rugby union teams good luck for the Rugby World Cup taking place in September. Do you see what he’s done there? Again, I asked myself what is the point of this? Does this distract us from the real issues? Is this talksport radio?

The PM said he hoped one of the home nations brought the trophy home and added a little anecdote about meeting the PM of New Zealand.

Then my hopes were raised as a Labour MP asked about the police enquiry into the phone hacking scandal and subsequent investigation of the News of the World. Again, the reponse was very brief – the police will investigate fully.  Maybe the PM did not want to dwell on this too long in case we remembered that his former director of communications had to resign earlier this year as he was implicated in the scandal as the former editor of the News of the World.

There followed a question that celebrated Nuneaton town centre and asked the PM if he would defend and protect town centres everywhere. Of course he will, he said. He will help local people to get more involved in planning and assist with business rates to avoid high streets becoming ‘identikit’. A noble cause perhaps but one that may be difficult to balance with the huge influence of the big supermarkets, especially given the PMs fondness for the way Tesco does things.

There was then some brief endorsement of yesterday’s NHS pledges and it was over.

The Sociology teacher in me was thinking what would a Marxist think of the obvious links to big business and pathetic lack of accountability? What would a Postmodernist think of the obvious style over substance and the blurring of reality and entertainment? What would a Feminist think of the almost empty chamber some 45 minutes later when Yvette Cooper wanted to debate the impact of government policy on women?

The educator in me then got sucked in to what happened next. You may think that i’m sad for getting sucked in to live coverage of parliament but I couldn’t believe that after all that pointless time wasting the chamber half emptied prior to the introduction of a 10 minute bill on Special Educational Needs. A topic of substance that was supported to a second reading. In December. Perhaps if there was less time wasted it would get done sooner? Speaking of which….

There was then a 45 minute session where various MPs repeated eachother in congratulating and celebrating the Duke of Edinburgh as he approaches his 90th birthday. Now, I have nothing against the Duke  (except perhaps the clumsy old-school racism/xenephobia) and the D of E Award is a wonderful thing, but one MP pointed out that ‘debating’ whether to support a ‘humble’ address may be out of date and I would add a waste of time. One MP recalled a quote from the Duke (reworking an old proverb) which seemed apt and also quite useful for MPs and teachers to remember:

The mind cannot absorb what the seat cannot endure.


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