Anyone who has ever watched Prime Minister’s Questions will be aware of one of the strangest bits of political theatre. MPs get to ask questions of the Prime Minister, which he avoids answering but instead makes some arbitrary political point. This is clearly frustrating to MPs, of all colours, especially when the Prime Minister lies at the despatch box. There is no doubt that he is a liar. To say things which are untrue is something that everyone does but when you go out of your way to repeat them or not correct a falsehood then there is no room for doubt.
Despite this, and what makes PMQs so strange is that you are not allowed to call the Prime Minister, or any other honourable member, a liar.
Erskine May (the “bible” of parliamentary procedure) states that “good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language”. You can’t accuse another member of lying or being drunk for example. The Speaker will direct a member who has used an unparliamentary word or phrase to withdraw it and if they don’t, remove them from the chamber.
The whole situation has become a farce. Recent accusations by the Prime Minister over the handling of the Jimmy Saville case by the Leader of the Opposition have been proven to be not true, yet he refuses to apologise or correct the lie he made in parliament. So far the Speaker’s interventions have been fruitless.
We know that he is a liar, the whole county does and his colleagues in his own party do as well. What makes the whole thing worse is that many of the Conservative MPs are prepared to accept the lies, indeed are willing to go on the media and defend the lies, twisting and turning then to try and make them more palatable.
Repeating someone else’s lie, knowing it to be untrue, or siding with a liar makes you no better. Those who defend the Prime Minister’s appalling and unparliamentary behaviour are liars as well.
Erskine May needs updating and the Speaker needs to get some teeth.