This week sees children returning to school and people that act like children from a Richmal Crompton book return to parliament. Prime Minister’s Questions is a chance for elected politicians to hold the government of the day to account by asking questions that the public want answering. It should be a professional environment as these questions are often about life and death issues. Instead it is a pantomime, less interested in substance than style; more worried about saying the right thing than doing the right thing. I tuned in today, in the hope that the summer recess would lead to serious discussion about the ongoing Grenfell enquiry, the report that highlighted how 4 million children are too poor to afford a healthy diet, or even some transparency and clarity about Brexit, which could negatively impact the country for generations.
Instead, after a question about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British citizen currently in prison in Iran, accused of spying (whose case was not helped by Boris Johnson), we got this:
The absolute audacity of the Tories to “slam” the leader of the opposition for racism when they have resolutely refused to answer for racism in their own party, as I have written about here, is shocking and the kind of thing I expect from a child that justifies their own bad behaviour by equating it with other equally bad behaviour. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask for a higher standard from our elected officials. You don’t get to kick a dog and then demand your opponent apologise for kicking cats.
The infuriating thing about this – using anti-Semitism for political point scoring – is that it belittles the issue entirely. As I have said before, racism is on the rise in this country. What does it look like? It’s two of my nephews, aged 7 and 11 having being told “you don’t belong in this country” and “go home, blackie” this year; it’s Prof Tendayi Achiume, the UN special rapporteur on racism saying that there has been a:
Brexit-related growth in “explicit racial, ethnic and religious intolerance”, including extreme views that have gained ground in mainstream political parties of the left and the right.
The topic is serious and I would expect it to be discussed seriously, not with faux outrage and not as a political bludgeon that it was today.
The questions turned to Brexit and, after a summer to think about what to say, we were treated to the world’s worst wedding gift*, “Theresa May Brexit Cliché Bingo”. All of the classics were there, including:
- “We are…working to get a good deal”
- “It is entirely right and proper that we should prepare for all eventualities because we haven’t come to the end of the negotiations” (*sniffs* some might say you should have prepared before the result of the referendum *muttering* but what do I know – Ed)
- “…deliver on the vote of the British people”
- “precious union of our United Kingdom”
The problem with all of these clichés (and their delivery which often feels condescending) is that they mean little and obscure the reality: that Brexit will have a catastrophic impact if negotiated badly. So whilst both sides act like stereotypical lads on a stag do, with their hooting and hollering, the people that they represent struggle with cuts to services and wonder why the schools they send their children to close early every Friday.
Prime Minister’s Questions has moments of levity. Corbyn made a well-received joke about dancing. Cue lots of laughing.
I found myself unable to laugh. It’s the same kind of buffoonery that allows Boris Johnson to escape scrutiny for his execrable behaviour. May’s dancing humanises her and draws away from her government’s failings. It’s the kind of dancing that belongs in the theatre, in a farce. The good thing about the theatre is that you can laugh and cry safe in the knowledge that there are no real word stakes. If those that represent us wish to entertain us, then I’ll be happy to see them in the theatre. If they wish to represent us, they can start by treating their jobs with the seriousness they deserve.
*The second worst wedding gift? This was given to my friends on their wedding day by a particularly vindictive family member. It’s a beautiful F U. I love how petty families can be.