TALK AND POLITICSCategory: Politics
For any visitor or member who comes to either of the two Houses of Parliament in search of the keys to the labyrinth of power, the disappointment must be great. It will be a pursuit of the will-o’-the-wisp. For it is as clear as the Emperor’s clothes that all that most members do about power is to talk about it. The House is like a steam-engine, hissing steam, puffing and whistling, which is secretly powered by electricity. The noble lords go on addressing the noble lords, the honourable members continue to address the honour able, gallant, or right honourable members; but unless there is a temporary and zany alliance of backbenchers the vote always goes with the government. The talk is not only ineffective but often quite irrelevant; and very little of it is eloquent or inspiring. [...]
Talk is their business, arid how they talk! They talk apparently to no one. They address this house, or the right honourable member, or Mr Speaker, Sir; but Mr Speaker is chatting to a passing member, the right honourable member left half an hour ago, and this house has just realized it’s time for a drink, and is emptying quickly through the swingdoors. But never mind, the words still roll out; and the dedicated parliamentarians seem able to subsist on a diet of motions, amendments and words — resounding and reassuring words, unsullied by ordinary usage; we are seeking, striving, asserting, deeming, deliberating, not shrinking from, taking cognisance of, not gainsaying; we are dealing not merely with taxes and subsidies, but imposts and subventions. The words roll on through the long afternoon — forty thousand of them perhaps in a day, enough for two long plays. The Speaker sits under his canopy, while his name is taken in vain, looking at his papers, his long wig flapping like the ears of an elderly bloodhound.
Meanwhile on the government front bench, chatting or reclining. with their feet up on tbe table, can sometimes be seen the men to whom the talk is really addressed — the heads of the departments of state, who alone can change policy. The visitor soon becomes aware there is not only a wide gap between himself and the members: there is a gap almost as wide between the ordinary members and the government. Every afternoon, except Fridays, from 2.30 to 3.30 a few of the ministers answer questions. Is the right honourable member aware that? Is he further aware? Does he realize? Does he not comprehend? Will he say what action is being taken? Will he make a statement? Is he satisfied? Yes, says the minister, reading his civil servants’ answers from his folder; he is aware, he does realize, he has taken .action, assessed the figures, borne in mind the consequences, balances the f orces. The honourable member will appreciate, this house will be kept fully informed, Her Majesty’s government is deeply concerned. . . .
The member has done his bit. His question and answer will be reported back to his constituents. But does the minister really comprehend, will he really take action? Can one man, the sole connection between the elected representatives and their government, be relied on to translate words into actions? Can one man, who was only recently an ordinary member of parliament, know and care so much about such a vast range of questions? And can all that air be transformed, as if in a steam engine, into pistons and levers which actually turn wheels?
(From The New Anatomy of Britain by A. Sampson)