Ratings for BBC Parliament are up, soaring viewing figures. There are hot dates for binge viewing. Parliament Live, matters of moment. Here and now, of our times. Momentous. See the traditions of our democracy, how it works. See it evolving before your eyes.
The Supreme Court gives its judgement that prorogation was unlawful and John Bercow, Speaker of the House, declares business will resume at 11.30 am on Wednesday 25th September. Parliament will resume, proragation ‘never happened.’
Meanwhile, the green benches are visible. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab speaks on Iran and tensions in the Straits of Hormuz. He’s an impressive speaker, well prepared. It’s a matter of consequence but on the whole there is cross- party consensus. If you watched through Dominic Rab’s statement you’d come away feeling impressed at the preparedness and high seriousness of The House.
6.00pm and those green benches disappear as the House fills, the noise level rises. There is no tradition of MPs listening quietly as questions are asked, speeches made. By 6.25 pm it’s standing room only. Everyone wants to be here to hear what the Prime Minister has to say. And, given noise levels in The House, to see how he says it. The look has much to tell, demeanour and body language, tone of voice. It’s all part of the message.
On the morning of Thursday 26th the Today Programme talks over events in the House, and press coverage. Some of this isn’t what I saw and heard, live and in full. If the press were remote, in the press gallery, it’s possible those of us watching BBC Parliament had close-ups they were denied. And facial expression is telling.
My question is this. Is it possible to view events in the House of Commons on Wednesday 25th September in a dispassionate and objective way?
For students of politics, take a look at today in the House. Consider the context in which it occurs, the build-up? How far back shall we go?
You can see for yourself but on the morning of Thursday 26th I’m struck by press reports which don’t tally with what I saw and heard.
Jess Phillips, Labour, Birmingham, Yardley, had been speaking. We think highly of Jess Phillips. She’s prepared, focused and to the point. One feels she works hard on behalf of her constituents. She has self-command.
Then came drama you can watch on You tube. I have only seen it live, in the context of hours of watching. In the heat of a noisy and often angry debate. That makes a difference.
Paula Sheriff, Labour, Dewsbury mentioned the death of Jo Cox but what she went on to say was lost on me because she writhed about and yelled and yelled at the Prime Minister. We must moderate our language, she shouted. Well, yes.
Humbug, said the Prime Minister. The best way to remember Jo Cox is to achieve Brexit.
The press has focused on this interchange. On the words. Out of context, they read differently. I feel.
At the time, I took ‘ humbug’ to suggest you don’t ask for moderation whilst shrieking and yelling. Let’s get Brexit done was the PM’s core message, over and over he said it. It seemed to me, at the time, that he simply wanted to close down this volatile interchange.
It’s good news that BBC Parliament viewing figures are soaring. It’s compelling viewing and it should mean we are better informed, on how our democracy works, on these momentous issues of our time, on the MPs who represent us. On who we’d choose as Prime Minister.
So why did I redact my first impressions?
I'd watched BBC Parliament from early afternoon until early evening. But did not see Boris Johnson quit the chamber. Should have stayed the course.
When other MPs placed the Paula Sheriff/ Boris Johnson moment in the context of death-threats she has received I felt she deserved an apology from The Prime Minister. I did not consider what it takes to wait and wait to be called by The Speaker, the pressure and the scrutiny MPs are under to make a point. So she has my apology. But not the one she needs. So why do I hear Paula Sheriff differently if I return to the edited You Tube clip? ' Overwhelmed by visual information, we focus on the wrong thing.' says Richard Wiseman, scientist and magician interviewed by Jim Alkalili.
At each new radio and TV programme of analysis the picture shifts a little. Context changes things. I am disappointed that Diane Abbott could not accept Brendan Cox' plea that all of us should find more moderate language . She was quick to blame the Tories, would not acknowledge that Labour was complicit. And Jess Phillips who spoke up on behalf of Paula Sheriff admits she once told Diane Abbott to f---- off. So we all of us need to be thoughtful in the language we choose.
And I redacted it because I'm a nature writer. But Lady Hale's spider brooch and my friend Frances visiting spider's antics (christened Brenda) leads me to my next piece.