Once upon a time, many, many years ago, MPs used to stand up and ask a question about something that interested or concerned them. Sometimes ministers did not even know what was coming, even if the questioner was from their own political side. Alas, that kind of real interrogation has vanished from Canberra life. These days government backbenchers are told what to ask so a minister can carefully give the prepared answer. On the other side of the house a few frontbenchers monopolise the questioning aiming to get a short grab of their words on television rather than provoking a meaningful response.
This silly game of charades has developed further to the point where the party apparatchiks send out each morning’s catch phrases to be emailed, tweeted and uttered by all and sundry. Members of Parliament are now little more than robot drones to be manipulated by their spinners.
It is the need to be seen playing the game in order to get political promotion that prompts these otherwise intelligent and sensible people to be so supine. Only the retired, or nearly so, occasionally break ranks, like the former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Steel did in the UK this week when he launched a despairing attack on the prevalence of spin doctors in politics, noting that he is given “daily outpourings of tweets to circulate” and bombarded by email with “lines to take” on current issues.
“‘The increasing role of spin doctors is to be deplored,’ he said.“‘They hand out questions for MPs to ask, and they daily bombard party activists by email with ‘lines to take’. Even I as a humble member of the upper house receive daily doses of laundry lists of the alleged achievements of the Lib Dems in the coalition government, and a selection of press coverage — all favourable of course — nothing critical such as the universally hostile editorial coverage of the last peerage list.”