Citizen Cuddis makes a Welcome return to Newsnet with his satirical look at the world of politics.
English parliamentary ritual is as intricate as a James Brown dance routine. To the untrained eye, much of what happens in the House of Commons looks uncannily like the dying moments of the Niddrie Lager Lout Society’s AGM sometime between last orders and the arrival of the riot squad. The House’s procedures are older than Dennis Skinner, though none is more archaic than PMQs. The following extract from Erskine May, the parliamentary rule book that contains no rules, serves as an explainer for all Prime Minister’s Questions.
How Prime Minister’s Questions Works
According to tradition, the session starts when the Speaker rises from his chair waving a copy of that morning’s Sporting Post. ‘We now come to Prime Minister’s questions,’ he informs the house. A random MP pops up to say, ‘Question number one, Mr. Speaker,’ and sits down again. No one knows why. The fictional Speaker — Ichabod Crane with a George Formby accent — is Sir Lyndseed Oyl.
The PM shambles off the government front bench like a bear battling to escape a portaloo. He slaps his ring binder on the dispatch box.
‘I have been doing stuff and things all morning, Mr. Speaker, and in pursuance of my duties as Big Dawg, along with my right honourable friend, the Deputy PM, also known as Deputy Dawg, I will be doing more stuff and other things throughout the afternoon. Later in the evening I will mostly be cutting a few shapes in the Glitter Ball Suite at number 10, more familiar to you as the cabinet room perhaps, where colleagues, in accordance with long established protocol, will each drink a Nebuchadnezzar of Prosecco before dropping their kecks to photocopy their genitalia. These people work hard and are entitled to blow off steam.’
To shove in time, somebody else asks a second question in which no one has the slightest interest. The speaker then introduces the leader of the opposition. Those occupying the Tory back benches start whooping like howler monkeys. Some swing from overhead microphone to overhead microphone, Tarzan-style in the direction of the bar. Sir Lyndseed Oyl interrupts his consideration of the runners and riders in the three-thirty at Ascot and points, apparently, at one of the Tory rabble-rousers off camera.
‘Listen up, Sonny Jim,’ he says, The PM will soon start lying his tonsils off. Now I would like to hear his porkies, even if you don’t. And I’m sure other honourable members want to hear them too. If I’ve to warn you again, I’ll slip a bar of Imperial Leather in the toe of a knee-length Argyll sock. Then I’ll creep into your taxpayer-funded second residence at three in the morning and thrash seven shades of shite out of you with it while you’re asleep, a la Full Metal Jacket. You have been warned.’ The Speaker turns to the Prime Minister. ‘Pray continue, my liege.’
‘But it’s my turn, Mr. Speaker—‘ Sir Keir Starmer bleats.
The chances of the speaker completing a timely Paddy Power betting slip sink faster than the PM’s oven-ready Brexit deal. Sir Lyndseed unfurls to his full height. He gestures Sir Keir to sit down by frantically flapping his arms up and down at him like a police officer signalling White Van Man to bring his speed down to 90 mph.
Mr Speaker,’ the Prime Minister says, stabbing a finger at Keir Starmer, ‘He kidnapped Shergar, Mr. Speaker.’ A hullabaloo erupts across the Tory back benches which now sound like the mosh pit at a Slayer concert. The Prime Minister sits down. The Speaker checks his watch, rips his betting slip to shreds and throws the confetti remains at the Tory backbenches.
He partially, but with full-on theatricality, shrugs his jacket off his shoulders and stares at the unidentified offender provocatively, conveying the unspoken message, come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough! ‘Shut it!’ He says.
A software fault in an overhead camera causes the lens on the unit pointing at the Speaker to suddenly take a wider view. This change of perspective reveals that the speaker is in fact talking to an area of unoccupied seating.
(Note to students of political science: such arcane displays of faux bravado are perfectly normal. They are designed to allow the Speaker to threaten the use of his disciplinary powers as if he was ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson, while discharging them like Charles Hawtrey wearing hummel doddies. The only known instance of a Tory backbencher being disciplined for behaving like a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal during PMQs was in 1845, when Lord Snoot was compelled to wear his brogues on the wrong feet for the rest of the day.)
In an effort to save the Speaker further embarrassment, the PM intervenes.
‘And it was Keir Starmer who threw himself under King George V’s horse during the 1913 Derby. Forty-eight times, Mr Speaker.’ Tory benches bray like donkeys with whooping cough. They resemble the fifth form of St Trinians during a dormitory party at which monkey dust is freely available.
‘Mr Ian Blackford,’ the Speaker announces reluctantly.
‘Come on, fatty!’ The PM shouts, as the SNP Minister stands up. Sir Lynseed snatches at his Erskine May for the second time this session, thumbing rapidly. He is relieved to find no prohibition in shouting, ‘Come on fatty,’ at an SNP member of parliament during PMQs.
In fact, he is intrigued to discover that all forms of ad hominem attack on SNP ministers are acceptable unless the antagonist isn’t wearing a tie. A footnote goes on to state that even when using the phrase, ‘The right honourable teuchter suckles at the teats of the twelve-horned beast,’ the accuser need only claim later, that they used those words ‘inadvertently’ and they’re off Scot free (pun intended.)
The rest of the session fizzles out like a Roman candle on a damp Guy Fawkes night as a parade of Tory backbenchers stand up in coordinated sycophancy to enthusiastically endorse Brexit. The following exchange is typical:
‘Nine-hour queues at Dover, caused by EU red tape, are stuffed full of bereft-of-hope lorry drivers facing redundancy because Brexit has destroyed the supply chains they have served all their working lives. Does the PM agree that these drivers now have no excuse for failing to complete their Universal Credit application forms on time, given this unexpected and surely-to-be -welcomed expansion of their in-cab leisure time, even allowing for the time it takes them to shite in a Tesco carrier bag and hurl it out their window?’
The PM returns to the dispatch box. ‘I completely agree, Mr. Speaker, ‘and if I might add that this House owes a debt of gratitude to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Pishy Rucksack, for exempting lorry drivers from the 20p Tesco carrier bag charge, where the plastic bags are used primarily for pooping purposes.’
Every little helps, as the saying goes.
George Anderson is a comedy writer based in Turriff, Scotland specialising in political satire and cutting social commentary. This is a link to his writing website Heedrum Hodrum