Those of you who follow the Labour MP Dennis Skinner’s peerless exploits in the House of Commons will be aware that raising the dodginess of any particular member is a breach of protocol and the accuser can be ejected from the Chamber (even as the guilty accused is permitted to remain sitting dumbly). Calling an MP in the Chamber a liar is also a serious breach but not nearly as serious as an MP actually lying. “Misleading Parliament” is a serious offence that should see the Minister concerned fired from their position and it is why you will witness MPs bending over backwards to be untruthful in the House without actually telling a lie; it is why Michael Gove did not outright deny that he had been the source of the leak to the Sun about the Queen’s supposed position on the EU Referendum and why he was so smug in his contortions to avoid doing so. It is also why David Cameron was so specifically vague in his statement to the House over he and his family benefiting from tax avoidance.
Whilst the House of Commons may be a decrepit arcane institution, it does occasionally get things right but it has led to the rather farcical charade we witness these days during Prime Minister’s Questions. David Cameron’s flippant and glib off-handed responses to questions when he was Prime Minister permitted him to avoid answering questions when to do so honestly would have thrown his party under a bus. It was a reliable dodgy option almost singularly because it could rely on a complicit media to report Cameron’s evasiveness, not as a sign of guilt but, as example of Parliament’s robust high-jinx. What a bally hoot. Against Jeremy Corbyn, Cameron could rely on having seen the questions in advance through leaks from Labour’s entryists, giving ample opportunity for zingers to be constructed ahead of time. The entryists have had their access to the questions curtailed and now May’s attempts to replicate Cameron’s evasiveness during PMQs has been dreadful. May has limped along through successive PMQs, bettered by Corbyn each time, and, without the glib zinger mucus that used to afford distraction for Cameron, May has had nothing with which to smear her evasiveness to hide behind. Needless to say, where the politico-media circus would guffaw along to Cameron’s japes, whilst ignoring the questions that were left unanswered, now the politico-media circus simply ignore the PMQs as much as they can get away with.
But that is the House. The other trend we have seen is Ministers taking to social media and political ‘entertainment’ TV to make policy announcements. The obvious thing about delivering policy announcements through social media and favoured old media outlets is there is no opportunity for the opposition to cross examine the announcements. The other important thing about drip feeding policy via the media is that the Ministers doing it, including the Prime Minister, are only subject to being held accountable by the press, not by law or Parliamentary rules. Theresa May can take to the air waves and the twittersphere to lie to us about what she is proposing for ‘Brexit’ and she faces no accountability because it is not against the law to mislead the public, only misleading Parliament and that requires the lies to be said in Parliament.
It’s not true unless it’s said in Parliament and, even then, you have to listen carefully to the wording being used to ascertain whether Ministers’ forked tongues are in play.