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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Handbags at midday in the House of Commons

The Guardian reports on the extraordinary spat between David Cameron and Nadine Dorries MP during Prime Minister's questions yesterday, in which the PM ridiculed his own backbencher and she stormed out in a fit of pique.

The paper says that MP for Mid Bedfordshire, exercised by the Lib Dems' sway over government policy, vented her anger through her question to Cameron:

"The Liberal Democrats make up 8.7% of this parliament and yet they seem to be influencing our free school policy, health, many issues, immigration and abortion," she said.

"Does the prime minister think it's about time he told the deputy prime minister who is the boss?"

But Cameron started laughing after telling Dorries that he knew she was "extremely frustrated".

Provoking MPs' schoolboy mirth at the hint of an innuendo to the female MP, the prime minister joked: "Maybe I should start all over again."

Pausing again, he finally said: "I'm going to give up on this one," and put his hand on the arm of an equally amused Clegg as he sat down next to his Lib Dem deputy.

There is some nonsense in the article suggesting that the Prime Minister was being sexist. However, Nadine Dorries is no ingenue. She chose to play rough and got back what she deserved.

The House of Commons can be unforgiving to those who overreach themselves, and does not discriminate in its judgement between men and women. Nor should it.
I think it is a bit disingenuous to suggest that 'the House of Commons doesn't discriminate between men and women' - because it pretty obviously does. The kind of noise women MPs get is obviously different, and in this case, Nadine Dorries didn't get an answer, where a no less stupid question from Mark Reckless was answered reasonably politely. The whole puerile excitement about innuendo (intended or, perhaps in this case, unintended) is just embarrassing. So, 'frustration' in a woman over 40 or so is so funny that it makes the whole house bay with excitement?!! Of course it's sexist - and it's absolutely not OK.

You might point out that they are equally capable of laughing at other people - for example when they mocked the MP with cerebral palsy a few months ago. But that doesn't make it much better, does it?

The fact that Nadine Dorries really walked into this with her daft question and the way she phrased it and that she herself doesn't have any sympathy for equal opportunities and so forth also doesn't excuse it. The place shouldn't look contemptuous of and hostile to women, but that's what it does, and yesterday's incident was very bad in this regard.

They are behaving like a bunch of crazed school bullies, and it's not going to help the reputation of Parliament.

Would you say that the following people also received sexixt treatment at PMQs yesterday when they asked questions?:

Helen Grant
Gloria de Peiro
Heather Wheeler
Diana Johnson
Amber Rudd.

I would suggest that those people named above received equally respectful treatment to the men who asked sensible questions.

I have listened or watched or read every single question and answer at PMQs over the last 17 months for LibDem Voice.

David Cameron has not answered several questions over the past 15 months where those questions are obviously highly opinionated/partly political statements, rather than genuine questions. Several Labour MPs, male and female, have had questions not answered or been subjected to ribald roaring from the House, when they are not asking genuine questions but grandstanding.

I would suggest that Nadine Dorries received equal treatment yesterday to those male and female MPs who have asked David Cameron what I would call non-questions but opinionated/political statements disguised as questions.

In short, Nadine Dorries asked a valid question in so far as it expressed her view. But it was not a question which could really be answered briefly/sensibly. When other MPs, male and female, have asked similar questions they have received similar treatement in the house - i.e roaring and a non-answer from the PM.
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