Those who can’t, write

Fraser Nelson was predictably cruel in his comments about Khalid Mahmood’s question yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions: “He stuttered, gasped, looked at his papers. How difficult can it be to ask one question?”

Well, you’ll never know the answer to that, Fraser, but believe me, it’s a lot harder than it looks, and certainly a lot harder than sitting in your office criticising the efforts of others.

Asking a question – any question – at PMQs is surely the most daunting of experiences. For a start, there are nearly three hundred people opposite who are positively willing you to fail. And that’s before you even consider that you’re being watched on live TV throughout the land. You’re also aware that there are reporters in the gallery ready to snipe and sneer at the first sign of a stumble. And on top of that, there’s a huge amount of pressure from your own supporters who desperately want you to succeed. Writing a blog or a column is a cake walk next to that.

As a back bencher I asked the (previous) PM a number of questions on a range of subjects, from child benefit and apprenticeships to drugs and knife crime, although the only one people remember was on light pollution, in 2003. Having instigated the Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry into the effects of light pollution on astronomy, I stood up to ask “when was the last time the prime minister had a clear view of the Milky Way galaxy?”

All. Hell. Broke. Loose.

The opposition started bawling and shouting, our side started cheering; an awful din. The only thing to do was plough on (no pun intended). I got to the end of the question without stumbling or forgetting my line and – crucially – without being called out of order by the Speaker for taking too long. I had been well and truly bloodied. I felt exhilerated. But it could so easily have gone wrong. It often does, and, frankly, no journalist who has not experienced it himself, and who therefore has no grasp of the pressures individuals are under at that moment when the Speaker calls your name, has the right to criticise those who have.

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7 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Labour, Media, Parliament, Politics

7 responses to “Those who can’t, write

  1. One of the reasons for all the envious bile that saddos are encouraged by the Daily Mail and others to heap upon our elected representatives is that the job looks so easy. Surely anyone can wander in just after 11, stand up and chat for a few minutes and then spend the afternoon in a convivial bar before toddling off to their grace and favour residence? Oh and shaking hands with a few voters at the weekend doesn’t take much effort does it?

    Perhaps, instead of national service, it should be compulsory for everyone to spend a couple of weeks in an MP’s office to see a bit of the reality or maybe they should be made to go through the hoops and loops of a selection process before being allowed to vote…

  2. James

    We’ve had reality programes about the police,fire, air ambulances,doctors,undertakers,vets,coastguards,lifesavers,fishermen, ratcatchers,celebs and even (extra)ordinary(?) people why can’t we have one about MPs.
    Or was Yes Minister the closest we’ll get.

  3. Shelldrake

    Those who can’t write? Oh, hold on, I’ve lost a comma… Just remind me of your previous jobs, Tom… and are your subscriptions up to date?

  4. “Well, you’ll never know the answer to that, Fraser, but believe me, it’s a lot harder than it looks, and certainly a lot harder than sitting in your office criticising the efforts of others.”

    I doubt whether Fraser would write “, and” either.

  5. Guy Incognito

    I’ve popped over from Coffee House, and I’m glad I did. This is a fascinating illustration of the narcissism and self-righteousness of our elected representives.

    “Watched on live TV throughout the land…” Perhaps your constituents hang on your every planted and toadying question, but I suspect “TV throughout bars in SW1” would be more accurate.

    “The most daunting of experiences…” What, really? The *most*? Asking a question in front of 300 similarly vain self-publicists? You might get booed and a hack might write something rude about you. It’s not exactly Goose Green, is it?

  6. Khalid was a shambles. The attention of the meeja, country/opposition politicians makes it all the more important to prepare.

    You may tolerate mediocrity, but why should the rest of us?

  7. Tim Worstall – I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, unless you imagine that it’s somehow ungrammatical to use the word “and” after a comma. But then, you probably think sentences can’t properly begin with “but”, either

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