My Twitter feed contains way too many comments about proportional representation (PR). It’s my fault. I follow the wrong people. But a few weeks ago, I received a Christmas card from a treasured friend with a PR message in it. That was too much. (You know who you are. This post is for you. Everyone else can read on or skip past, just as they wish.)
It is well-known that MPs are not allowed to call each other “liars” in the House of Commons. When Labour MP, Dawn Butler, used the term in July of this year to describe the Prime Minister, she was asked by the chair of the debate to “reflect on your words and withdraw your remarks”. Ms Butler refused. The chair promptly ordered the MP to leave the House for the rest of the day, citing Standing Order 43.
There is nothing wrong with the Standing Order. It deals with “grossly disorderly” conduct. But there is a problem in the notion that MPs shouting and baying at each other, drowning out each other’s words, as happens frequently, is not a gross disorder, but quietly and patiently pointing out a lie is.
Words matter. That’s why we keep misquoting them. When criticising politicians, accuracy is treated as an optional extra. Faultfinders find it so much more fun, it seems, to repeat a misquote if, by doing so, they can make the powerful look silly.
Owen Paterson was not an innocent man, but he seems to have convinced himself that he was and – for a while, at least – he persuaded the Conservative hierarchy that his case provided ammunition to criticise the Parliamentary Standards process. The principles at issue are straightforward enough for most people to conclude that Paterson had done wrong. And yet the rules are complex enough for him to believe, fervently, that he had not and, worse, that the system had mistreated him. But it is not too difficult to pick one’s way through the conflicting arguments to see what lies within.
Today brings news that the Labour Party plans to raise £1.6bn pa in VAT from Britain’s private schools. Labour say the funds would help to pay for state education. But I’m not convinced they have they got their maths and their economics right.
I keep reading that the government is planning to increase National Insurance contributions “to fund social care reform”. I really don’t think that’s correct. I don’t doubt that the government is planning to increase NI contributions. And that it is also planning to improve social care. But I question the idea that the one can really be said to be paying for the other.
I don’t want to start a panic, but I do wonder whether Covid is making people less able to think properly. I’m not talking about those poor individuals who have actually had the disease. I’m talking about (almost) everyone.
Reading the Times newspaper yesterday, I was somewhat gobsmacked to see Sean O’Neill, the paper’s chief reporter, complaining that “The UK has no constitutional protection for a free press and no real cap on costs for libel actions.” These two facts formed the centrepiece of his argument that abuse of British courts is killing free speech. But, after years of campaigning against these protections, is the Times now regretting its success?
In January of this year, Covid-19’s second wave was getting going. The vaccine program was just starting. And recently retired doctors wanted to return to work in order to help out. Famously, the reaction of the bureaucrats at the Department of health was to provide applicants with a tidal wave of online modules to complete. The Times reported one doctor complaining that she was only a quarter of the way through after six hours of form-filling.
Earlier this month, Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld the decision to ban someone from its site. The “someone” in question happened to be Donald Trump, but that has no bearing on this article. I want to examine the debate that rages over the principle of social media sites being able to ban anyone at all from their platforms.