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The Clean-Up Starts Here

June 9, 2011

On the 12th May 2010, the Prime Minister and his Deputy stood amongst the roses in the garden of Number 10 and made a series of promises. There was a mixed reception – welcomed by some, treated with caution by many, rejected by others – depending on one’s ideological placement, political affiliation, economic agenda and vested interests. All except one: the promise to “clean-up politics”. Here was the one item on the agenda where all could unite, in hope or expectation.

Yesterday, during Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron accused Ed Miliband of misleading the House on NHS waiting times. John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, immediately interrupted, asking him to withdraw his remark. Cameron did not.

Someone did mislead Parliament yesterday, however. Twice. That person was the Prime Minister himself. Regular readers of this blog will know, this was not a isolated event.

I cannot overemphasise the importance of this. Not misleading Parliament is a fundamental rule, breach of which by a minister is expected to lead to a resignation (see Rule 2 on Ministerial Accountability). Further, under the House of Commons Code of Conduct, members are expected to behave in a way which will “maintain and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament” (see Rule 15, Code of Conduct). As I write this, the Speaker of the House is giving a speech on improving the public’s perception of Parliament.

How can we clean up politics if the Prime Minister of the day cannot be truthful for 30 minutes of 30 weeks in the year? This is at the heart of everything that is wrong with the political process. The public’s distrust of politicians and apathy to politics flows directly from it. This is the highest elected representative openly disrespecting the legislature, the voters and democracy itself.

The media appears to be shrugging its shoulders, apparently immune to this casual dishonesty. So, here is what I will do about it:

Every Thursday, I will write a blog pointing out glaring instances of the PM misleading the House during PMQs. If you think I have got it wrong, feel free to use the “comment” function on this blog and point out why. If you have spotted additional instances, again, do likewise.

Every Monday, I will write to the Speaker of the House pointing these inaccuracies out, explaining why I feel they flout the rules and asking him to pick up the PM on them or explain why he thinks they do not. I will copy this letter to the Prime Minister’s office and the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.

With your help in spreading this message, we will be heard.

 

Prime Minister’s Questions – 8 June 2011

1.1 Questioned about his government’s reforms on sentencing David Cameron stated:

“One response to the consultation paper came from the shadow Justice Secretary, the man sitting next to him, who said that it is “a perfectly sensible vision for a sentencing policy, entirely in keeping with the emphasis on punishment and reform that Labour followed in government”. Why the sudden U-turn?” [Hansard link]

1.2 Sadiq Khan, the MP in question, had actually made that statement on 7 December 2010 is response to the Ministry of Justice’s mission statement – not on the consultation paper. This is what he said:

“The Ministry of Justice’s four-year plan on its vision page declares We will provide a clear sentencing framework. It will punish those who break the law, and help reduce re-offending. I have no quarrel with that. It seems to me a perfectly sensible vision for a sentencing policy, entirely in keeping with the emphasis on punishment and reform that Labour followed in government…” He went on to add: “However, the statement that we have just heard and the Green Paper give rise to a number of questions and concerns.” [Hansard Link]

1.3 The Prime Minister’s assertion that Mr Khan’s statement was made in “response to the consultation paper” is patently inaccurate. The intention and effect of this inaccuracy is to ascribe to Mr Khan a position quite contrary to the one he held. It is, therefore, submitted that the Prime Minister knowingly misled the House on this matter.

2.1 Questioned about his government’s Health Service reforms The Prime Minister stated:

“I have to say again that there has been widespread support for the review of our health plans, not least from the man sitting four down from the right hon. Gentleman, the shadow Health Secretary—I know I often quote him—who said that “looking at the evidence of what works, listening hard to those who know the NHS and learning from the views they get…is not rocket science. It’s simply good government”. What the right hon. Gentleman calls a shambles, his shadow Health Secretary calls good government.” [Hansard link]

2.2 This is what John Healy, the MP in question, actually said in his speech to the Royal Society of Medicine on the 26th May:

“In the 9 weeks’ ‘pause’ the government is doing what it should have been doing for the 9 months before – looking at the evidence of what works, listening hard to those who know the NHS and learning from the views they get. This is not rocket science. It’s simply good government and it’s good politics. Both have been totally absent in the health department since last May.” He added: “The principles of good public policy are consult first, legislate second and implement third. This proper order has been reversed with the NHS reorganisation.” [full text of the speech]

2.3 The Prime Minister’s assertion that Mr Healy’s statement was part of “widespread support for the review” is patently inaccurate. The intention and effect of this inaccuracy, and of the selective editing of the quotation, is to ascribe to Mr Healy a position diametrically opposed to the one he held. It is, therefore, submitted that the Prime Minister knowingly misled the House on this matter.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2011 5:38 pm

    This is a fantastic idea. I look forward to seeing the results!

  2. Fluf permalink
    June 9, 2011 7:06 pm

    I’m in. Good plan.

  3. thesacredmongoose permalink
    June 9, 2011 7:43 pm

    This is brilliant. I love reading the things you write.

  4. Isobel permalink
    June 9, 2011 8:10 pm

    shared this around face book, brilliant…. good on you….

  5. June 9, 2011 9:02 pm

    Looking forward to the PM’s resignation🙂

  6. June 9, 2011 9:36 pm

    Great idea – fingers crossed it gets their attention…

  7. June 10, 2011 12:57 am

    Brilliant cant wait

  8. Enfrance permalink
    June 10, 2011 7:54 am

    I applaud your intentions but this will be an awful lot of work. Of course, if they indulge in a lot of misrepresenting the job wil be that much easier.

    Presumably, as Dave is a PR person this sort of this is second nature. However, in Parliament there are rules, which with your intervention, may start to be enforced.

    Good luck as always.

  9. Chris permalink
    June 10, 2011 8:05 am

    Wonderful idea. I wonder if you will be going through the Hansard back catalogue to point out the inaccuracies in PMQ replies by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; Labour having made a similar assertion about cleaning up politics.

    Or perhaps a sideline blog reflecting on what the Leader of the Opposition says. Afterall as an aspiring PM he should be leading by example.

    Balance, after all, is always good to demonstrate that this is a problem throughout the political system. Unless of course this post is about party politics.

    Still, good effort. Politics should be conducted in a clean, fair, transparent way with due respect for Parliament and the law. If it isn’t then the only people who suffer are the electorate.

    • June 10, 2011 10:39 am

      Believe me, I am aware of lies we have been told in the past. Especially the whopper about Iraq.

      I will be looking at what EdM says as well, but only in the context of PMQs – not enough time.

      The importance of PMQs is that whatever is said within them, tends to then be reported by media as fact.

      Let’s start somewhere.

    • June 15, 2011 5:15 am

      Go on then, you do that and we’ll enjoy the benefits of having a balanced viewpoint.

      We await your first post with interest.

  10. joe Higham permalink
    June 10, 2011 8:06 am

    Just remember as Max Headroom or someone else once quipped :

    Question – “How do you know a politician lying?”
    Answer – “Check to see if their lips are moving!”

  11. June 10, 2011 8:46 am

    This is a fantastic idea. We are so often misled, and this will definitely help to make politics and what politicians say more transparent. Keep up the good work!

  12. June 10, 2011 10:45 am

    Fantastic.

    Chris makes a fair point, though I feel that as the Prime Minister, the greatest onus is on Cameron not to mislead the House. But I agree that it would be good to have the Opposition called similarly on any misleading that they do.

  13. June 10, 2011 11:14 am

    An impressive commitment and I applaud your dedication. I will be watching with interest and giving my support where I can.

  14. Irena permalink
    June 10, 2011 3:02 pm

    I’ve tweeted the link to my (very few) followers. I admire your dedication, because I can see this will give you a lot of hard work. And of course I’m in favour of truth and probity in our public life. But could it be that deliberate and pretended misunderstanding of other people’s point of view is part of the game of politics (and law), and maybe even necessary in the face of wily adversaries? I can’t make up my mind, and will keep eye on your blog as I think about it.

    • June 10, 2011 3:32 pm

      You may be right. But this isn’t about pretended misunderstanding of another’s view. It is about using the most powerful dispatch box in the country to misrepresent them to others. Even a tabloid would have to print an apology.

  15. June 29, 2011 5:30 pm

    What happened to this idea? I really hoped you would do it.

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