Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Westminster, If we can do it so can you!

So a few weeks ago I watched Prime Minister's Questions, oh why did I.

I rarely watch Prime Minister's Questions anymore, it has descended into a circus of baying, laughing & taunting that any child could tell you is a deeply wrong way to behave especially when parliament discusses matters that affect the public so deeply. But even putting this aside, no genuine debate occurs, ministers on the prime minister's benches jostle for a turn to stand up & state how wonderfully they're doing, with the opposition of course taking it’s turn to say they could have done it better. Any genuine inter bench debate is silenced. There is no debate, no back & forth of ideas & definitely no compromise. So whats the point? All Prime Minister's questions shows us is what the government & the opposition is arguing about on a given week. What they accuse each other of failing at & what achievements they claim to have accomplished, regardless of the truth of them. All of which are covered by any news source that covers politics within the UK.

Watch one Prime Minister's Questions & you can't wonder why people are disillusioned with politics in Westminster.

This is however not how Questions are done throughout the rest of the UK. With the countries that make up the UK having their respective devolved Assemblies & Parliaments that sit depending on the nation, on a differing amount of devolved legislative powers.

So I decided to look at the most recent sessions (at the time of writing), in the respective parliaments & assemblies across the UK, that were currently available online when all nations sat during the week. (I couldn't find any link for the London Assembly)

The First Questions were on Monday 24th November - First & Deputy First Ministers questions: Northern Ireland's Assembly.

During this session the chamber talked about the troubles, the Irish language & religion. Northern Ireland with such a troubled past, can gather in the chamber & discuss topics which outside the chamber can still be very heated without resorting to the same type of behaviour seen in Westminster.

The Second Questions were on Tuesday 25th November - First Minister's Questions: Welsh Assembly

During this session the chamber talked about transport, including roads & rail. The First Minister was asked about the changes in fares & admitted at present he did not know the information to give to the minister but that information would be made available in due time. There was no spin given & no guess work & the minister asking the question accepted the First Minister's answer. The chamber got a little more heated at 18.20 in the video when Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood spoke about Welsh under funding. However this didn't continue for long after the speaker intervened & brought the chamber to order. There was then further debate about health & domestic violence. 

Wednesday 26th November - Prime Minister's Questions: Westminster

The debate started with VAT & how the Prime Minister believes there should be a debate in the commons about the Welsh NHS even though this is a devolved issue. Even if there was to be any debate in the Commons, it should be about the NHS as a whole & not instead an attempt to politically point score by attacking the Welsh NHS. The Coalition attacks the Welsh NHS because a Labour government is sitting in the Senedd (Assembly) & a there is a Labour opposition in Westminster. There are various problems within the NHS as a whole but as a Labour government doesn't hold a majority in any other parliament, there is no other opportunity to attack the Labour opposition. 

The debate then moved onto those with learning difficulties, often those who get placed into institutions away from & against their families wishes instead of being supported in the community.

Then there was A LOT of it's your fault, no it's your fault. There was also a lot of “will you congratulate” so & so & oh our economic plan was so “awesome”. If this was cut out, all of the peppy filler, there may be so much more time to discuss more pressing issues?

Anyway, after the peppy interlude, the debate moved on to accusing the government of pandering to UKIP. Followed by the NHS & the Israeli bill removing the rights from non jews. A minister then tried to praise the personnel who were going to help with the ebola outbreak. Something very worthy of praise, however people continued to speak whilst she was trying to talk. Its worth noting that this help is arriving months after charities on the ground had stated the urgent need for further assistance & unfortunately this help was only given after westerners had become infected.

Thursday 27th November - First Minister's Questions: Scottish Parliament 

The session began with Jackie Baillie asking what the First Minster was doing & wishing her a safe journey to the Isle of Man. Could you really see an opposing party member doing this in Westminster? The debate primarily focused on further powers being given to Scotland. Although the debate was a little more rowdy in parts, the debate still continued with the Chair bringing the chamber back to order.

I have included all of the videos of each debate, from each of the respective parliaments & assemblies. I don't expect anyone to sit through & watch each session but click on each video, a few times on each & the difference in noise level between Westminster & the devolved parliaments is astounding. Especially the shocking frequency of how people are not talking when someone else is trying to speak in the devolved parliaments. Has it come to the point that we must implement a talking stick within Westminster & for ministers not holding the stick, to sit with a finger to their lips like children do in primary school before they learn to listen?

Although there has always been debate about the effectiveness, along with the ability to efficiently legislate in the devolved parliaments, the fact remains there is much more purposeful debate seen in these parliaments. There has been research to suggest that parliaments that sit in a rectangular chamber with two sides are much more confrontational than those that are round & parliaments that sit in a rectangular chamber are much less likely to compromise. In addition, in all of the devolved parliaments within the UK there is an opportunity for the member posing the question to the First Minister to respond to their answer, something which is not seen at Westminster with the exception being the lead for the opposition. Regardless of the reason it is clearly possible to have an adult debate without the behaviour seen in Westminster. When people are watching ministers laugh when pressing through legislation that may impact upon a person's life so significantly that it may mean they have less food, no roof over their head & less opportunity in life, there should be no surprise how little faith people have with Westminster. Laughing shows how little they are in touch with the people in which their legislation affects & that I think is the main difference, that too often Westminster MPs forget who they represent until the next national vote.

But it is always important to remember. These MPs are voted in, they represent their constituents with their consent. We are the ones that must push for change & understand the importance of who you vote for on election day. 

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