There’s pointlessness, and then there’s Prime Minister’s Questions, where democracy goes to kill itself.
W ho needs to stare aimlessly at peeling wallpaper when every week we are confronted with this joyless exercise in futility?
There may once have been a time when the Prime Minister gave a serious and informative response put to him or her by the leader of an opposition party, but that time has long gone. In recent years, the last several Conservative Prime Ministers have ceased even to pretend to give an answer to the questions put to them, treating them instead as opportunities to deliver rehearsed and deeply unfunny put-downs.
You’d have more luck scratching your right elbow with your right hand than getting Rish! Sunak, the current resident stand-up non-comedian of PMQs, to give a sensible response to the questions he is asked. It’s supposed to be Prime Minister’s Questions, not Prime Minister’s Quarrelling. There are arguments on primary school playgrounds which are wittier and more informed than the yah boo sucks to you, which passes for an answer from the Prime Minister at PMQs.
The truly shocking thing about this weekly farce is that the Speaker routinely enables this naked contempt of one of the very few methods that Westminster allows MPs to interrogate the holder of an office to whom the British parliamentary system gives almost unlimited power. This is proof that the Westminster system is utterly dysfunctional and incapable of holding the powerful to account. Indeed it’s not going too far to say that the entire purpose of the Westminster system is to ensure that the powerful cannot be held to account. It provides the trappings of democracy, but little of the substance.
The current incumbent of 10 Downing Street has no personal mandate, he has not won an election, not even an election carried out amongst members of his own party. He holds office on the sufferance of his backbench MPs only because their dislike of the idea of another General Election is greater than their dislike of Rishi Sunak – at least for the time being.
Sunak is a bizarre mash-up of the previous four Conservative Prime Ministers, Like David Cameron, he’s rich, immensely privileged and woefully out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. Like Boris Johnson, he trades in deceit and duplicity. Like Theresa May, he’s robotic and wooden, an empathy-free zone. And like Liz Truss, he’s hopelessly out of his depth and a puppet of his party’s most extremist factions.
Tory MPs shouting, screaming and braying while the Labour leader details what the Conservatives have done to the ambulance service in England is not a good look, but it is completely in keeping with the selfish, uncaring, cruel, heinous, ugly, selfish b*stards they are.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. | CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/UK PARLIAMENT
Scotland has its problems with the NHS too, but ambulance response times in Scotland are nowhere near as bad as they are in England. This is a topic about which I have deep personal experience. When a person suffers a stroke, it is imperative to get them to a hospital as soon as possible so that they can have a scan and the cause of the stroke be determined. If the stroke was caused by a blood clot – as mine was – the patient can be injected with a clot-busting drug which will prevent further damage to the brain. If the stroke was caused by a bleed, they can then be given medication to rapidly coagulate the blood and thus prevent further damage to the brain. The treatment for one type of stroke is damaging to a patient who has suffered the other kind of stroke.
Crucially there is only a narrow time window in which patients can be given the appropriate treatment. If this time window is missed, the brain tissue affected by the stroke dies, and brain damage is the result. This is why it is imperative to get stroke patients to hospital as soon as possible. Ambulance service guidelines state that patient who have suffered a suspected stroke should be got to hospital within 18 minutes.
I know from bitter experience what happens when this target is not met. I had a stroke during the worst period of the pandemic in 2020, before there were any vaccines. Ambulance crews were short-staffed as many health workers were themselves ill with COVID, and those still at work had to cope with a flood of COVID patients struggling to breathe and in need of urgent medical care. It took over an hour before I got to the hospital and the cause of my stroke was determined, by this time, it was far too late to inject me with clot-busting drugs, and I was left with significant brain damage which has caused disabilities which will be life-long and which are serious enough that I was awarded the maximum possible in disability benefit. If It had been possible to get me medical treatment within 18 minutes, I might not have been left with the significant disabilities which now rule almost every aspect of my life.
This week in England, in some areas, it is taking ambulance crews two hours or more to reach patients who have suffered a stroke. These patients, if they survive, will suffer far more serious disabilities than they otherwise would have. They will require greater rehabilitation resources, higher levels of disability benefit, and more in the way of community and social support, all of which impose a far greater burden on the public purse, not to mention the immense emotional and psychological toll that comes to terms with a serious disability imposes on patients and their loved ones.
But when Starmer asked Sunak a simple question about ambulance response times in England, an issue which has been highlighted all week and which Sunak should have expected, the Prime Minister looked utterly clueless while the monkeys on the Tory benches behind him hooted and howled and threw metaphorical poo. Finally, Sunak replied with a cheap jibe about the Labour party, which has not been in power for 13 years. I almost burst a blood vessel and had another stroke.
SNP leader Stephen Flynn. | CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/UK PARLIAMENT
Then it was the turn of the SNP leader Stephen Flynn to be patronised and fobbed off. Stephen Flynn put it to Sunak that by using a Section 35 Order to block Scottish legislation, democracy in Scotland has become collateral damage as the Tories pursue their culture war. He accused Sunak of creeping toward a policy of direct rule. There was more dismissive point scoring from Sunak, at which point I switched off. I only wish that Scotland switches off from Westminster permanently.
— AUTHOR —
▫ Wee Ginger Dug, also known as Paul Kavanagh. Blogger who writes and talks about UK Politics and Scottish Independence.
▪ Text: This piece was originally published in Wee Ginger Dug and re-published in PMP Magazine on 19 January 2023, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
▪ Cover: Instagram/UK Parliament. - PMQ in the House of Commons. | 18 January 2023. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)