The Week According to Sean Dilley

Sean Dilley: 'Young people are just not that interested in politics'
Sean Dilley: 'Young people are just not that interested in politics'

Broadcaster and general nuisance Sean Dilley gives us his take on the week in politics.

Speaker John Bercow has told parliament to watch its Ps and MQs in a letter to all party leaders, after research indicated that the public think it's childish and loud.

Some might argue that I'm not the best judge of these things since I agree with Winston Churchill's description of the adversarial environment as "the bedrock of British democracy". But I've written extensively - indeed more than any other journalist in this parliament, I believe - on the subject.

While it may seem to be the stuff of playgrounds and nurseries, all that shouting and screaming achieves important results for politics. The prime minister of the day cannot slack when it comes to being on top of the work of government. John Whittingdale, who was Margaret Thatcher's political secretary from 1989-90, told me it offered an opportunity for the Iron Lady to discover some of the more idiotic policies of her government. Likewise, David Cameron says it's a good way to stay across the work of all departments.

Tony Blair said in his memoir that prime ministers fear the encounter and spend the first part of the week preparing for it. He'd have preferred half an hour of dentistry when he was PM, he explained.

But it is because PMQs is so stage-managed and so loud and (sometimes) amusing that nearly all of our 650 MPs attempt to cram in to the 435 seats provided. It's also why the press gallery is always to capacity for the showdown. This assures coverage in the media. Every single word the PM uses is scrutinised and discussed.

If the public really hated PMQs, I submit to you that the BBC's Daily Politics would not achieve over double the audience for it's Wednesday show than any other day. I would further suggest that a generally sceptical public will naturally take the opportunity in any survey to kick politicians across the floor, but that doesn't mean that changing it would be good for democracy. If a sedate, Socratic debate worked, we’d surely have health questions and Home Office questions on mainstream TV channels all the time wouldn't we?

Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have welcomed the Speaker's letter. Let's hope the leaders are paying lip service on this one.

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Parliament will be a less rich place for the departure of Salford MP Hazel Blears, who just announced she will be standing down at the 2015 election.

As one of the 1997 intake, Blears was dubbed one of 'Blair's Babes', but this probably sexist tag does her no justice whatsoever. Despite her friendly and upbeat personality, she's one of the more sincere and thoughtful MPs.

Some, perhaps understandably, have chosen to pick up on her repaying over £13,000 to the tax man after flipping her primary and second home designations, which was in the rules but clearly wrong. This writer was embarrassed in 2011 when reporting her comments on the election of Ed Miliband, at which point she branded some of the things her party did in government as "wicked and malicious". The comments were made at a party fringe event and it was on record – but Hazel made the mistake of questioning the accuracy of the comments on the BBC's Daily Politics the next day, leading to a messy situation where recordings of the event (not mine) found their way to the studio.

But these blips aside, Hazel has always, to my mind at least been one of the more approachable members. She maintained party loyalty was never bloody minded or self-important, as I've found certain of her colleagues over the years. The BBC is, I know, grateful to Hazel for her work lobbying government on Media City and though she will be spending more time with her mother and family, I certainly hope retirement from those green benches won't make her scared to 'rock the boat' in the future.

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Young people are just not that interested in politics - so says a survey by the Office of National Statistic.

Well no Shtick Sherlock! Why should they be? I ask as someone submerged in the geekiest details of the Westminster world and as someone who followed Margaret Thatcher's leadership challenge and departure as a child. And even for me, I don't see what it is that politicians are offering that young people are interested in.

The raising of student tuition fees won't have helped. I actually don't have any view on whether fees should have risen or not –but the way they were raised was the north side of disgusting.

It is the Lib Dems who are the dirtiest in all this.

Churchill notably said: "If you're not a Liberal at 20, you have no heart; if you're not a Conservative at 40, you have no brain." (He's doing alright for plugs in this week's piece) Things have changed drastically since Churchill's day, but it's undeniable that the yellow team was always the choice of students and younger people – the choice of those who were interested in politics but wanted something different to the establishment.

So who represents those ideological younger caring people now? Who fills that gap of MPs who had enough representation in the Commons to be heard in the news and to ask questions of ministers? There aren't enough MPs in the smaller parties so Westminster needs to do something or face extinction.


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