What are Prime Minister’s Questions and why is everyone bobbing up and down?
PMQs are held every Wednesday for half an hour. It is the opportunity for MPs to put questions to the Prime Minister and to hold the government to account over their actions. MPs use PMQs to ask questions about national issues and often use it as an opportunity to mention issues affecting their constituency.
MPs wishing to ask a question must enter it into a ballot system.
Entries are selected at random and put at random onto the Order Paper which the Speaker of the House calls out. The question is asked; the Prime Minister gives an answer.
Tradition dictates that PMQs starts with a question about the Prime Minister’s engagements. This is called Question Number One.
The Prime Minister will usually reply;
“This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.”
The first MP to ask a question will ask “Question Number One” then follow that with their own query.
This question is usually followed by the leader of the opposition. The opposition leader (currently Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party) is allowed six questions in total. The opposition leader is the only person allowed to come back with further questions.
Those not selected for the Order Paper can attempt to “catch the eye” of the speaker to ask an extra question. This is achieved by standing and sitting immediately before the Prime Minister makes his answer. This is known as “bobbing”. There was us thinking they’d just had an electric shock.
The format of Prime Minister’s Questions has changed over the years. In 1881 a time-limit for questions was set. Then in 1961 PMQs were made permanent as two 15 minute slots on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister he changed the format again to the 30 minute slot on a Wednesday which we have today.
Prime Minister’ Questions has been criticised as being childish. MPs from both sides cheer their leaders and bray at the opposing side. The Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition usually trade thinly veiled insults.
The speaker of the House John Bercow has called PMQs “embarrassing”. The “histrionics and cacophony of noise” meant several MPs had said they would not attend Prime Minister’s Questions.
In the past the behaviour was much more civilised. In a speech to the House John Bercow notes that “while exchanges could be lively, contemporary accounts do not record them being remotely raucous.” Former speaker Selwyn Lloyd blamed the rise in bad behaviour personal animosity between Harold Wilson and Edward Heath.
New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised to change Prime Minister’s questions. He wants it to be less “theatrical” and for a real debate to take place.
Referendum; a vote on a single political decision which has been put to the public.
Example; Scotland had a referendum in 2014 to decide if they wanted to stay in the United Kingdom. (They did. Just.)
Right now; it’s about whether the UK wants to leave the European Union.
The EU is a political and economic partnership of 28 European countries.
It is run by the European Parliament. Members of European Parliament (MEPs) are voted in every five years by the public. MEPs set laws which cover transport and business rules in Europe among many other things.
The European Commission proposes laws to the Parliament and enforces EU law. It upholds treaties and looks out for the interests of the European Union – not individual countries.
The EU operates a Common Market.
Sometimes called a single market this means goods, services, money and currency; but most importantly people can move freely between EU states. The idea is free movement of goods and services, which means good news for business and everyone profits. No, it doesn’t mean you get stuff for free.
In 1973 the UK signed up to the common market (called the European Economic Community or EEC) to trade with other countries and develop international relationships. Jump to 1993; the EEC became the European Union and the European Parliament arrived. Some say 75% of UK laws are influenced by the EU parliament; others say as little as 7%.
That’s the million dollar question. We’ll be wrapping up the main arguments for and against the EU in a way even an 11-year-old can get their head around. Stay tuned for the full video coming soon.
The EU referendum will take place on Thursday 23rd June 2016.
Cameron has negotiated a set of changes to the UK’s EU membership. He wants to:
– Protect the single market for non-Euro countries like Britain
The UK is one of nine EU countries which doesn’t use the Euro as it’s currency. Cameron wants to ensure that the Euro-using countries can’t gang up and force through measures on non-Euro countries. He also wants to ensure there is no discrimination or no disadvantage for non-Euro countries.
– Change immigration rules
Current EU immigration rules mean that people from EU countries can travel to Britain to work without needing a visa or a work permit.
This also means that they can claim state benefits. Cameron wants to reduce the number of economic migrants coming into Britain. To do this he plans to restrict migrants from claiming benefits until they’ve worked in the UK for four years. Everyone seems to think this is unlikely to happen.
– Get Britain out of the “ever closer union”
One of the founding EU principles which the UK signed up to was the ever closer union. This means European citizens driving to integrate more closely.
EU skeptics dislike this idea as it erodes our national identity and could lead to an EU superstate. Cameron wants a legally binding “get out of jail free” card for Britain. He also wants national parliaments to have more power to block resolutions from the EU parliament.
– Make Europe business friendly
The EU parliament sets certain regulations for businesses in Europe. E.g. the standards new products have to meet when tested. Cameron wants to cut the “red tape” which he believes is holding businesses back.
Not everyone is satisfied with these demands. One Tory MP asked “is that it? Is that the sum total of the government’s position in the renegotiation?”
Another asked “how is he going to be able to sell this pig in a poke?” This is a reference to the allegations that David Cameron did something very naughty with a pig’s head whilst at university.
The latest reports suggest that the prime minister wants to push on with the EU referendum sooner rather than later, perhaps even before the end of 2016. We’ll be updating when we know more.
The question which will be put to the UK is ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’ The choice of answers will be ‘Remain a member of the European Union’ or ‘Leave the European Union’.
You’ll have to be 18+ to vote in the EU referendum – this is different to the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, where 16 and 17 year olds got to vote.
Britain Stronger in Europe (BSIE) is a major campaign to stay in the EU. Headed up by former Marks and Spencer boss Lord Rose the campaign has the backing of former Labour Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair as well as Caroline Lucas from the Green Party and Conservative Damian Green.
In Campaign Decoded: The campaign video concentrates on the business argument for staying “in”. The EU is our main trading partner – if we leave the free market we start paying import and export taxes which would hurt business. Without the EU the UK risks being isolated in the international community.
Though there are other pro-EU campaigns, it’s likely BSIE will be chosen as the official “in” campaign by the Electoral Commission.
The Vote Leave group is the official “out” campaign. The two main faces of Vote Leave are soon to be ex Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Conservative MP Michael Gove. .
Out Campaign Decoded: The campaign video focuses on the cost of EU membership. As the UK is one of the richest EU countries it (along with Germany and France) pays more for our membership. Some estimates put the total cost as high as £118 billion a year. Ouch.
Both Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave are cross-party campaigns – made up of MPs from various political parties.
Are you “in” or “out”? Let us know in the comments below.
The Political Party Conference season is in full swing. What is this and why should you care?
Imagine it as a festival; the Glastonbury of politics.
At a festival, there are loads of bands, poets, theatre makers all vying for your attention. They want you to come to their gig, or support their cause. This is a little similar to a party conference.
Each year in party conference season politicians and party members get together to discuss what the party’s aims and values should be. Businesses and other groups send lobbyists, who attempt to influence the decisions and policies decided at conference.
Whatever you want to get out of party conference, odds are you can find it. There are prayer breakfasts, a running club and different lobbying groups trying to meet politicians. Luke James, parliamentary correspondent at the Morning Star, describes it as a “democratic festival whirlwind”.
“You’ve got people going here there and everywhere, and it’s not just in the conference centre – There’s literally dozens of fringe meetings every day starting at 7.30AM”.
Just don’t expect to see anyone raving. Ed Miliband we’re looking at you.
Each political party decides what to discuss in difference ways.
Labour has a National Policy Forum, made up of MPs, councillors and trade unions, which creates reports on various issues.
Some these are discussed at conference and go on to form Labour policy. However, party conference is not always where policy is made.
Luke James notes that in the past “a motion is passed at a Labour conference it doesn’t necessary mean it will become policy.” This is because they have very complex policy making process, as reported by the BBC.
When it comes to discussing policy the Green Party took a more artistic approach at their spring conference this year.
Members scrawled “visual minutes” of the issues being covered at conference onto a massive mural. Somehow we can’t imagine the Conservatives following suit. You never know though.
We’ve just had a general election – and the losers need to start planning for the next one.
If party conference is Glastonbury for politics, then the leader’s speech is the headline act. The Labour Party and the Lib Dems have new leaders who have to quickly make their mark.
UKIP needs to assert itself as a dominant force before the upcoming EU referendum and the Green Party needs to make the most of its increase in membership.
In Scotland, the SNP needs to set the agenda for the Scottish Parliament elections next year, and many are talking about the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum. Cor blimey.
Don’t forget the current government, the Conservatives. With a small majority David Cameron needs the backing of his entire party to push through new laws.
After some ham-fisted attacks online over the alleged #piggate scandal, he’ll want to move forward to more important matters – like Europe and the refugee crisis.
Though solid policy decisions may not be set at conference, it is important for setting the tone for the various parties; especially important as we have two new leaders for the opposition parties.
Even if you’re not political, you’ll probably have an opinion about what the government and the opposition parties stand for. Therefore conference is really important for getting the party message across to potential voters.
Party Conference in a nutshell;
At a festival you can reinvent yourself. You can let your hair down, try new things and decide who you want to be. Similarly these political party conferences, at the start of a new parliament, are an opportunity for the party leaders to set the agenda for the next 5 years.
Just like a festival, party conference can be exciting and busy – but don’t expect all policy to be decided right this minute.
Recent events make us wonder how we can define sexism? Is calling someone “stunning” politically incorrect? Does calling out inappropriate behaviour make you a feminist or “Feminazi”?
By Joel Davidge and Bobbie Mills
Mention the word “sexist” and you might imagine 1950s attitudes where a woman’s role was to be a good housewife. Then in the 1960s the “sexual revolution” occurred; women challenged the traditional roles they were expected to fill.
So, how do we define sexism today?
When it comes to issues of gender, or gender politics the actual meanings of words sometimes get lost. For example, do you think of yourself as a feminist? OK, let’s try another question. Hands up if you’re in favour of equality between men and women?
Well, guess what – that’s feminism.
Say “feminist” and some people might think about women burning their bras in protest, or angry reactions to having doors opened for them. This is stereotypical and inaccurate; the word Feminism describes “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”.
So, let’s be clear;
Sexism is defined as the “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex”.
Yes, men can be victims of sexism too.
If you’re thinking about negative attitudes towards women you’re probably thinking of Misogyny. Misogynistic behaviour (apart from being really tricky to spell) is “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”.
Sexism can be where a person’s professional credentials are ignored or belittled due to their gender. For example, if a news story about an individual is covered in a particular manner due to their gender.
Take internationally recognised lawyer Amal Alamuddin. She represented founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange and Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Yet when she married a rather well-known actor the media started focusing on her husband’s acting career, rather than her many high-profile legal cases. OK, so her husband George Clooney is pretty famous, but even so.
UK parliament and political media coverage are often accused of being sexist. This is perhaps a fair criticism; today only 191 constituencies out 650 are represented by women.
New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for the selection of his new Shadow Cabinet of ministers and advisors. Despite selecting a female majority for the shadow cabinet (16 women and 15 men) for the first time in history, people complained that he had given the top cabinet positions to men.
It was reported that Angela Eagle was given the position of Shadow First Minister of State only after a Corbyn aide said “we are taking a fair amount of **** out there about women.” Corbyn defended his decisions, saying that Education and Health (the positions given to Lucy Powell and Heidi Alexander) were just as important as positions like Chancellor.
During the 2015 Labour leadership contest a journalist asked Labour leadership runner-up Liz Kendall about her weight. Kendall was understandably outraged. The article in question described Kendall’s “lithe figure”. Good to know the media had this important issue covered.
Back in 2010 newly elected Labour MP Stella Creasy was told to vacate a lift as it was for MPs only. The Tory MP challenging her had assumed she was a researcher. Sexist or no? In fairness to the MP in question, he apparently did apologize.
The Conservatives gave us Margaret Thatcher – the UK’s only female Prime Minister to date.
Thatcher had to deal with being a woman within a “man’s world”. She had voice coaching to lower the tone of her voice (because sounding like a woman was a no-no!). As campaigner Peter Tatchell puts it, Thatcher “got to the top in what had been a man’s world; largely by emulating the macho, testosterone-fuelled style of male politicians.”
The image of a male dominated parliament still exists today. Currently Tories only have 68 female MPs, less than a third of their total number. Labour have 99, which is still below half.
The Conservatives have only 10 women compared to 20 men in their Cabinet. However, Theresa May does hold the office of Home Secretary. Traditionally this is seen as one of the four great offices of state (the others are Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary).
Even if you hold a top job, that doesn’t protect you from sexist comments, as one female barrister discovered;
Everyone’s talking about Charlotte Proudman. She’s a barrister, specialising in female genital mutilation and vulnerable women. She’s currently studying for a PhD at Cambridge University.
This week Ms. Proudman logged on to business networking website LinkedIn to see a message from senior lawyer Alexander Carter-Silk. Though noting that it was “probably horrendously politically incorrect” Carter-Silk the message complimented Proudman on her “stunning” profile picture.
Proudman was not impressed, replying that she found the message “offensive” and that she was on LinkedIn for “business purposes not to be approached about my physical appearance or to be objectified by sexist men”.
“Think twice before sending another woman (half your age) such a sexist message.”
Ouch. Proudman then proceeded to upload a snapshot of the conversation to Twitter. A media frenzy and lots of heated discussions over the definition of sexism ensued.
Proudman claims in an Independent article that she spoke out for all women. While her partner was receiving offers of work via LinkedIn, Proudman describes a “catalogue of similar incidents”; this wasn’t a one-off. She’s not alone; many other women have since reported they’ve been chatted up on LinkedIn.
Defending the message he sent to Ms. Proudman, Mr. Carter-Silk said that “my comment was aimed at the professional quality of the presentation on LinkedIn which was unfortunately misinterpreted”.
Regardless of the intention, Proudman experienced the message as a sexist. This should not be ignored. Having received several messages she deemed sexist in the past she may have been predisposed to see Carter-Silk’s message as just another of the same. Yet this just reinforces the point that there is a problem.
Proudman wanted to call out everyday sexism on LinkedIn and to see if other women had similar experiences. However this backfired as the media have mostly focused on this individual occurrence rather than the structural problem that she was trying to highlight.
Proudman was attacked for ageism (stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age) for mentioning that she was half Carter-Silk’s age in her reply.
Others criticised Proudman for publishing the photo online.
Lastly, Proudman was branded a “Feminazi”; a derogatory term was coined by an American talk show host in the early 1990s to describe extreme or radical feminists. It references the German extremists in World War II.
The debate now seems to be over whether she overreacted to the comment, and whether it was wrong to post the snapshot online, rather than the fact that many women seem to be receiving similar messages online.
Because as we’ll see, sexism goes way deeper than comments made online;
Sexism isn’t confined to professions like politics, law and journalism. Research concludes that due to the pay gap between what men and women earn, women effectively work for free from November 4th until the end of the year. That’s despite the Equal Pay Act of 1970 supposedly stopping men being treated better than women in terms of pay and conditions of employment.
It’s not just about comments. The actress Helen Mirren recently announced that she is annoyed when men put their arms around women, seeing it as a sign of ownership. In an “infamous” 1975 TV interview in 1975 TV host Michael Parkinson drew attention to Mirren’s “physical attributes”. He even introduced her by referencing a reviewer’s description of her as “the sex queen” of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Writing about this encounter years later the Daily Mail suggested Mirren “get over it already”.
Writing for the Guardian Lucy Mangan suggests a practical solution; keep a score of all these unwanted sexist attitudes. She does make another interesting point, however.
“Men are – I think quite genuinely, and almost reasonably – confused”.
In the case of Alexander Carter-Silk, if he had wished to offer a genuine comment, is that wrong? The rules of the game change so fast it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Each time a story like this breaks we rapidly redefine what is and isn’t acceptable.
Jokes or behaviour which might have been acceptable in the past are suddenly able to kill your career stone dead. Sir Tim Hunt lost his position at the Royal Society after making misjudged comments about girls in Laboratories.
This is not to defend Hunt – he made an error of judgement. Yet the massive backlash on social media seemed rather disproportionate.
In the Guardian, Mangan notes that the only way to avoid the confusion, where a potentially innocent comment or arm on the shoulder can lead to a witch-hunt, is to create a society where women are truly equal to men.
“Then there would be no question of ownership being indicated through or read into random physical gestures. Compliments and everything else will be freely exchangeable between the sexes because they will stand on exactly the same footing. Jokes will never be misinterpreted.”
Sounds like a good idea to us. At the very least, people should be able to call out bad behaviour without being called a hypocrite.
To boil down something very complicated, it’s about right place, right time. Is this all wrong because it was on LinkedIn?
Is it difficult for women to stand up for their rights without being branded a “Feminazi”? Should we feel able to compliment people on their looks without fear of being publicly named and shamed?
Got a sexist story you want to share? Everyday Sexism Project (@EverydaySexism) documents “experiences of sexism, harassment and assault to show how bad the problem is and create solidarity”. Think there’s an angle we haven’t covered? Let us know firstname.lastname@example.org
In politics you often hear the term “left-wing” and “right-wing” thrown around. For example; left-wing political ideas are usually big on community and believe that government should be involved in society. Taxes are collected (richer people should pay more) and redistributed to support those who cannot look after themselves.
Political parties usually stick to the same side (left or right) but how close they get to the centre ground depends on who leads them. If the party disagrees with where the leader is taking them it can lead to a break up.
The Labour Party is at a crossroads. The original Labour party was born out of trade unions; created to represent the working class and workers in government. It was a “left-wing” party.
Then Tony Blair changed things, re-branding the party as “New Labour” and moving the party more to the centre ground of politics. Having lost two elections in a row the Labour party needs to choose; left or right. Unfortunately they can’t decide, and it may lead to the party breaking up.
When Blair became leader of the party in 1994 he created the concept of “New Labour”. First, he weakened the links to trade unions. He re-wrote Clause 4 of the party’s official constitution which wanted “common ownership of the means of production.” This allowed big business more influence in politics and weakened the power of worker’s unions. New Labour allowed some privatisation of public services, (something the old Labour party was against) believing this would make public services better and was something the public wanted.
Though the term “New Labour” was dropped in 2010, the party has pretty much stuck to this new set of ideals. As this position sat more in the centre ground of politics many have accused New Labour of becoming like the right-wing Conservative Party.
Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn believes the Labour party has been pulled too far to the right-wing of the political spectrum.
He wants to bring it back to the left and to regain some of the party’s traditional values. E.g. fighting for the workers, higher taxes for top earners (think; those earning about £150K). Jezza also wants to renationalise public services like the NHS and national railways.
This week Tony Blair made a speech about the future of the Labour party. Several comments could be interpreted as digs at Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn was seen as wildcard when he put himself forwards, but is now reported to be ahead of his rivals.
In fairness to Blair, he didn’t officially endorse any candidate and said the contest shouldn’t be about an individual, but about a political platform which works for the country. What Blair thinks about Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing platform is anyone’s guess, though he gave plenty of clues. “When people say ‘well my heart says I should really be with that politics’…well, get a transplant.” Oh Tony, you joker.
If Corbyn wins the Labour leadership could this lead to a split – with half the political party returning to more left-wing politics, and the rest heading in the opposite direction? The party does have a history of break-ups. In 1981 a group of four Labour MPs decided their political party had become two left-wing and formed the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The whole point of breaking from your party is to get away from the things you didn’t like about them. So many parties try to go it alone. However our electoral system, which is called First Past the Post gives better results for the larger parties. Its design means one party winning overall is more likely.
Take a look at this list of all political parties currently active in the UK, and compare it to this list of the number of parties actually in government. The list of parties in government is a lot shorter. So for a better chance of getting some power, some parties decide to team up.
No point sitting around moping; get back out there and hook up with someone new. After all there is strength in numbers, and you’ll never get anything done in parliament unless you have support.
After the Social Democratic Party was formed by Labour runaways they flirted with the Liberal Party. They eventually hooked up in 1988 to become the party we know today as the Liberal Democrats.
In the 2015 general election the Liberal Democrats lost a tonne of seats. They now only have eight seats left, and their ex-coalition partners the Conservatives have gone solo to take power. Break ups are brutal; one party always ends up better off.
Maybe the Liberal Democrats should team up with another political party – Tinder, anyone?
Ok, not really. That would just be… weird. But apart from jokes about the Lib Dems getting into bed with anyone (sorry Nick Clegg) this also has a historical basis.
In 1973 Scottish National Party (SNP) members broke away to form the Labour Party of Scotland (not to be confused with Scottish Labour). They fought a By-Election in Dundee and lost; only gaining 3% of the vote.
Politically, this could be seen as the equivalent of suddenly being single, going out for the night and ending up being carried home. But they did stop the SNP from winning the seat.
Lots of members of the party returned to the SNP soon afterwards. If you can’t beat them, join them… again.
In 2014, two Conservative back-benchers decided it was time to leave. Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless weren’t forming a new party but were defecting to the UK Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage.
They then both fought, and won by-elections to regain their old parliamentary seats. A future UKIP surge seemed likely.
However, fast forward to the 2015 general election and only Douglas Carswell was voted back in as an MP. Mark Reckless lost his seat, which was taken back by the Conservatives.
There’s not much chance of Reckless being welcomed back by the Tories. This tweet was posted by Conservative candidate Claire Perry;
Not only that, the Tories are also suing Reckless for money spent on campaign materials printed for him before he left for UKIP. All is fair in love and war.
For Douglas Carswell, the next five years in Parliament as the only UKIP MP may be pretty lonely. UKIP want Britain to split up with the European Union. So at least they’ll get the EU referendum they wanted.
Don’t even get us started on the sort of break up that would be.