PMQ’s – sound-bites and fury signifying nothing?
I previously posted about the Leveson Inquiry and how it was being reported on by one of the subjects of its inquiry – namely the media. And not by the old media and usual commentariat suspects but by new media and specifically on Twitter – I am not aware the demographics of Twitter but it does seem they are a more representative voice of democracy then those in the employ of our Newspaper and TV media. It is also not just the voice of the people of any one country but of many countries – though not exactly ‘We Are The World’ either rather those of us fortunate enough to have the economic wherewithal to be able to access the world wide web. And in my case it is the English speaking world too as I speak no other language – well leaving aside my less than fluent attempts at French and Spanish!
This time I thought I would see how Twitter reports on an an entirely British Event – Prime Minister Question’s or PMQ’s – when the Prime Minister of the day faces questions from members of his own party and the opposition parties – well these days it is Opposition Party and that party being Labour as the other hitherto eternal party of opposition, the Liberal Democrats, is now a member of government, if a coalition one. The Leveson Inquiry is I accept a British Event too but one which has a wider global interest as it also has ramifications beyond our shores such is the global nature of media, whether of the old or new kind.
I would compare its response to how the old media reported it. Usually they condense its thirty minutes of political theatre down to a minute or two, such is the level of interest in it.
I would also have an official record of PMQ’s provided by Parliament itself in the form of Hansard.
This weeks record can be read here and I am not going to repeat it save the opening tribute to a soldier who gave his life in Afghanistan from the Coalition Prime Minister, David Cameron.
“I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Rifleman Sheldon Steel from 5th Battalion The Rifles. He was a highly respected soldier who had achieved a great deal and shown much potential during his time with the Army. At this very sad time, our thoughts should be with his family, his friends and his colleagues. His courage and his dedication will never be forgotten by our nation.”
Most questions were around the day’s public sector strike over pensions (also with its own hash-tag #N30), and the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s Autumn Statement from yesterday (along with the current state of the public finances and economy in general) as well as a few questions relating to other matters.
Regarding the public sector strike, Labour Leader, Ed Milliband, practised the high-wire act of criticising the PM for the government’s funding and handling of public sector pension reform whilst not himself supporting the strike (which was noted by Conservative MP Mark Spencer).
He began by referring to the Head Teacher who was on public record of opposing the strike back in June and of which the PM praised for so doing but which today had closed her school. He asked a number of questions about pension reforms and relating to the Chancellor’s Autumn statement of yesterday.
The issue of union funding was raised by Conservative MP Laurence Robertson in respect of the taxpayer contribution. Another Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg asked if the striking air-traffic controllers could be sacked!
On the economy Labour MP Lillian Greenwood asked about the cost of unemployment not just in benefits but in lost tax revenue. Labour MP Kate Green asked why government is freezing working tax credit. Labour and Co-Op MP Mark Hendrick asked the PM if he came into politics to sack three quarter million public service workers. Conservative MP Fiona Bruce asked about pension provision and protection for those in her constituency working in the private sector. Labour MP Owen Smith raised a question regarding the tax contribution of banks as oppose to public sector asking if the distribution was fair. There were a number of other questions relating to the economy.
There were too a few foreign affairs questions including Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson asking about the progress of women’s rights in Afghanistan and Conservative MP Chris Kelly asking the PM to condemn the attack on the British Embassy in Iran.
Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell asked perhaps the most off-the-wall question of the day namely whether the sixteen remaining countries that fly the British flag ‘proudly’ will be defended by the UK!
At the outset the PM had commented on a number of MP’s who had grown moustaches in November as part of the Movember campaign (an annual November fundraiser towards funding and promoting awareness of Men’s prostate cancer), Liberal Democrat MP Roger Williams was clearly one of those MP’s identified as the PM praised him ‘for the magnificent specimen lurking underneath his nose’!
So then these were the questions. And what did the old media run with? Only that the Prime Minister had described the day’s strike ‘has a damp squib’. Why make substantive points when a throw-away phrase like this will get the old media’s short-span attention?
How though had Twitter reported it? It should be noted that despite my comment about the more diverse participation of the public on Twitter as against that on our old-time media many of that old-time media inhabit the new-time Twitterverse too – whether has news organisations or hacks in their own right.
The question of a tax on banks drew opposing tweets. Tim Montgomerie, Editor of Conservative Home, tweeted ‘Cameron ridicules Miliband for proposing a bank tax and then spending it in EIGHT different ways: The Bank Tax That Likes To Say Yes’ whereas Alex Belardinelli with a Red Rose Labour Badge on his Gravatar commented ‘Nonsense Prime Minister – this is what the bank bonus tax would pay’ for with a link to the Labour Party website and a piece by its leader on how this money would be spent on 110,000 new jobs.
This tweet from Michael Moran echoing what many think about the adversarial theatrical nature of PMQ’s ” The ridiculous pantomime of
#PMQs is a sharp reminder that if you want to lay off un-needed public sector workers there’s 650 @ Westminster” – and the ‘plague on all their houses’ attitude towards all mainstream political parties that pervades currently.
Channel 4 News tweeted what was perhaps one of the best lines of the day by Ed Milliband – “Some strikers earn less than what the chancellor spends on his annual skiing holiday” – reminding us all of the huge income disparities between those on the Conservative Front Bench and the millions of teachers, nurses and other hard-working pubic sector workers striking that day. Though one tweeting questioning the arithmetic ‘Does George Osborne buy his skiing gear from Poundland, or did Ed Miliband make a bit of a gaffe earlier?’!
Left Foot Forward on the other hand questioned the arithmetic from the other side of the equation – Osborne actually 52 times more privileged than Miliband claimed: http://bit.ly/u7X2TU writes
@alexhern #PMQs #n30.
In respect of the thread of party funding and the relationships between the unions and Labour, Mehdi Hasan, the Senior Editor of the New Statesmen, tweeted “”His entire party is paid for by the unions,” says a party leader whose party is 50% funded by the City of London”. Resonating with a recent Sunday Observer column by comedian David Mitchell ‘Better we fund our political parties then let lobbyists run the roost‘.
Michael White of the Guardian tweeted’ Strikes are wrong, Labour is in unions’ pocket is Cam’s message, pure 1980s Daily Mail stuff in very different times’
This tweet from Red Fabian acknowledged that the PM did at least have one of the best lines of the day – if scripted – but then they all are aren’t they?- “They’re all shouting in Unison. Or should that be on behalf of Unison?” Unison being the trade union for public sector workers.
The right-wing PM accused the left-wing Labour leader of being, well, left-wing! This leading to a number of Tweets asking if being called ‘left-wing’ is an insult! I guess that depends on whether you consider yourself as left-wing or right-wing! And is this sort of remark more suited to the playground than the chambers of parliament?
Helen Lewis-Hasteley of the New Statement tweeted “that’s good of him RT
@JamieWood_Sky: Michael Gove tells Sky News it’s not wrong to be left wing or right wing – notable as Michael Gove is the Conservative Secretary of State for Education!
Following PMQ’s there is, amongst political pundits at least, a kind of informal polling of which of the party leaders got the better of the exchanges – of late it has see-sawed back and forth between Cameron and Milliband.
This week the Guardian thought that Ed had the better of it – “Miliband bombarded Cameron pretty effectively with embarrassing statistics.
@AndrewSparrow‘s snap #PMQs verdict” while an opposing thought from Peter Mannion MP – “Might it have been better if Ed Miliband hadn’t turned up for work today? #PMQs #PMQ #N30 – clearly not a Labour MP!
It was clear though that despite a variety of other PMQ’s the questions that exercised the Twittersphere most were the ones that exercised the old media hacks the most too – namely the public sector strike action and related government economic policy. But it also has to be acknowledged that much the best tweets were from the old media hacks themselves – if perhaps benefiting from being unshackled from their respective Editors and Proprietors.
There was also a notable number of tweets to the announcement that public funding of union salaries in workplace would be ended – “Petty vindictiveness from Cameron to end public funding for union salaries in workplace http://bit.ly/vKYL56
#PMQs #N30 via @GdnPolitics was but one tweet and a view much echoed by most Tweeters.
Is Twitter – gasp! – left-wing leaning then?! And should it be insulted by this, or just proud?!