David Cameron’s final PMQs today revealed much about the current state of public political debate in this country.
At one point, Cameron acknowledged the theatrics of this weekly verbal knockabout, but this was no more than a ruse to appear appreciative of the sham whilst actively engaging in it, albeit this one no more than a boxing feint.
I understand the orchestrated tit for tat of the format: the Prime Minister receives the questions in advance, ostensibly to be able to prepare for and provide the detail of his or her answers [for example, statistical evidence]. However, the preparedness is much more than this, especially in the ‘witticisms’ provided for rather than by Cameron himself. Today’s use of such a comic reference to Monty Python’s Black Knight sketch [in reference to Corbyn’s recent bruising from his own Party] will not, I suspect, have been his idea; indeed, I doubt Cameron has ever seen the film.
Whilst this very capacity for such witticisms was praised by those Conservatives using their questions to eulogise Cameron’s tenure – understandably so – it was striking how Corbyn refused each time to respond with similar. It is quite likely he doesn’t have the natural wit to do so himself, especially off-the-cuff compared with Cameron’s written script, but we know it is also intentional to avoid this very theatrical deflection from dealing with the seriousness of debating questions.
And that’s the point – it isn’t a debate. But if the voting public absorb and respond to these soundbites and comic tags rather than the content of serious questioning, that reminds those of us who support Corbyn’s, by comparison, dull integrity and principle just how tricky this can be to fully trust when slick performance above persuasive rhetoric/oration is, ironically, what persuades people to vote for a person and their Party.
This posting is no more than an aside, and I will close on a final reflection. One of Cameron’s most effective one-twos today was a reference to the 2-0 of his Party providing two female Prime Ministers compared with none from Labour and others, but the quip which received the greatest laughs was about there not being a pink bus in sight, a reference to Harriet Harman’s campaign for connecting with female voters in the recent general election.
It was a fine enough joke if joking is what matters in House of Commons debate [and I can’t/won’t be so painfully churlish to deny its place], but it reminded me of two factors that reflect worryingly on both main Parties, and therefore our whole political system:
- for the Conservatives, that joke had a deeper significance in countering Cameron’s closing and I think hollow tribute to the serious nobility of those who chose political life where recent events in his Party post-Brexit revealed instead rampant treachery and self-absorption;
- and for Labour, accepting some similar degree of self-destruction, the call to oust Corbyn and replace him with more conventional Labour contenders is totally undermined by a ‘mainstream’ Harman’s pink bus episode as well as an equally ‘mainstream’ Milliban’s tablets of stone debacle where each demonstrated how ineffective their approaches and ideas were.