Lack of qual­ity in de­bates down to sound­bite cul­ture

Yorkshire Post - - OPINION -

I’M NOT alone in be­moan­ing the qual­ity of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship and de­bates in this coun­try – a peer re­cently re­marked to me that this is the weak­est gov­ern­ment, and weak­est op­po­si­tion, in liv­ing mem­ory. I couldn’t dis­agree.

I re­fer, by way of ex­am­ple, to the two­day de­bate on the EU (With­drawal) Bill – the means by which Euro­pean leg­is­la­tion will be in­cor­po­rated into Bri­tish law on the day that Brexit is im­ple­mented.

To­tally fun­da­men­tal to the fu­ture of this coun­try, Speaker John Ber­cow’s time re­straints soon limited the con­tri­bu­tions of back­benchers from six min­utes to five to four to three – barely long enough for an or­a­tor like Win­ston Churchill to make his open­ing re­marks.

And, be­cause of this, the qual­ity of de­bate di­min­ished be­cause those con­cerned were not only read­ing from their scripts, but there was lit­tle or no eye con­tact with oth­ers and a huge re­luc­tance to ac­cept in­ter­ven­tions as they didn’t want to lose valu­able speak­ing time. Head down, they car­ried on in their own lit­tle worlds.

If they had en­gaged with oth­ers, not only would it have en­hanced their de­bat­ing skills but also their fu­ture cre­den­tials as politi­cians of renown be­cause an in­ter­ven­tion might, in fact, re­veal a nugget that has the po­ten­tial to change pol­icy for the bet­ter – it’s what hap­pened in the 1970s and 80s be­fore par­ti­san­ship re­ally took over.

That’s why it’s im­por­tant to com­mend two in­ter­ven­tions. The first was by the Re­main sup­port­ing for­mer Labour min­is­ter Caro­line Flint who ap­pealed for “hon­est en­deav­our and com­pro­mise on high­lighted by the truly woe­ful in­ter­view that Dig­i­tal Min­is­ter Matt Han­cock gave to the BBC’s pro­gramme about broadband cov­er­age.

Be­cause his in­quisi­tor quite rightly high­lighted those ar­eas of the coun­try where the most ba­sic broadband is still a dis­tant dream, this apol­ogy of a Min­is­ter was forced to de­vi­ate from his prepre­pared script and was left fum­bling.

This should be one of the most im­por­tant jobs in gov­ern­ment. How­ever his com­pla­cent dis­re­gard of all those homes and busi­nesses stuck in a cy­berspace ‘black hole’ ren­dered this econ­o­mist un­fit to hold this post any longer.

DE­SPITE MIN­IS­TERS claim­ing there is in­suf­fi­cient time to de­bate Brexit’s ev­ery twist and turn, Par­lia­ment is now ad­journed un­til Oc­to­ber 9 to make way for the Lib Dem, Labour and Tory party con­fer­ences.

Given it’s less than a fort­night since the Com­mons re­con­vened af­ter the six week sum­mer re­cess, it’s an in­sult to vot­ers – the Lib Dems, who have just 12 MPs, are due to end their con­fer­ence on Tues­day.

Surely the time has come for such gath­er­ings to take place at week­ends?

IT IS re­ported that the £1bn ‘cash for votes’ deal be­tween the Tories and North­ern Ire­land’s Demo­cratic Union­ist Party will, ac­cord­ing to the Trea­sury’s so­lic­i­tor Jonathan Jones, re­quire Par­lia­men­tary ap­proval.

Yet, while the Gov­ern­ment will be hope­ful of win­ning a vote, Theresa May would be de­nied a ma­jor­ity if York­shire’s Tory MPs protested over trans­port fund­ing. Are they pre­pared to ex­ert such in­flu­ence so this re­gion gets the world­class rail­way that it de­serves? They may not get a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to do so.

HAV­ING READ the draft re­port into the Leeds trol­ley­bus fi­asco, I have no con­fi­dence that les­sons will be learned by the city coun­cil. In­stead it at­tempts to blame the sorry saga on the fact there were eight Trans­port Sec­re­taries dur­ing the rel­e­vant pe­riod.

Yes, the churn of Cab­i­net Min­is­ters does not help long-term de­ci­sion-mak­ing, but this white­wash ap­pears to gloss over the lack of ex­per­tise at Leeds Coun­cil that were high­lighted by the Gov­ern­ment in­spec­tor who presided over the pub­lic in­quiry.

Given the time and money that has been wasted, with Leeds still the largest city with­out some sort of light rail sys­tem, tax­pay­ers have ev­ery right to ask how chief ex­ec­u­tive Tom Rior­dan and his team will mon­i­tor and over­see such projects from the out­set in fu­ture. Lo­cal tax­pay­ers – like my­self – have a right to know.

I MUST be los­ing my touch. I was due, on my day off, to meet Wake­field Coun­cil leader Peter Box to dis­cuss de­vo­lu­tion un­til his sec­re­tary can­celled at the last minute so he could at­tend a pot­tery class.

I hope this isn’t the rea­son why Wake­field is the only au­thor­ity in West, North and East Rid­ing not com­mit­ted to the One York­shire de­vo­lu­tion deal that has the po­ten­tial to trans­form this re­gion for the bet­ter.

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