Yawning Bread. November 2007

Parliamentarians with nothing to say


    

 

 

"You criticise the opposition politicians for not engaging the public on issues," my friend said to me recently, "but are the PAP members of parliament engaging either?" The People's Action Party (PAP) has 82 out of the 84 elected seats in Parliament and forms the government.

I have to concede that he had a point. However, we need to bear in mind that it may be more difficult for PAP MPs to do so, because their party is the party of government. It is always easier to criticise the government than defend it.

Nonetheless, we can ask, are they even interested in engaging the people on issues? And to answer this question, we need only to ask how many of them maintain a blog.

In fact, as far as I know, out of 94 parliamentarians (84 from the PAP, 3 from the opposition and 9 non-party nominated members) only one -- Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong -- maintains an active blog [1]. For a country that likes to claim that we're at the cutting edge of information technology, 1 out of 94 is quite embarrassing.

In Britain, for comparison, 34 out of 646 MPs in the House of Commons maintain a blog. That's about 5 percent, a rate that is 5 times more than Singapore's. [2] 

What about the (in)famous p65 blog then? The one where 12 PAP MPs, all born after 1965 and newly elected to Parliament in May 2006, were to show how "with it" they are? At least the URL is not dead, but I'd hardly call it an active site.


Screenshot of the p65 blog with Baey Yam Keng's July post

 
A quick check on 19 November 2007 showed no new articles so far this month. Looking back over the last 4 months, there were just 8 entries:

  • 24 Oct 2007 Baey Yam Keng posted his speech in parliament regarding the Penal Code Amendment Bill, including Section 377A;
     
  • 24 Sep 2007 Baey Yam Keng wrote something about the locally-produced film 881, etc;
     
  • 6 Sep 2007 Lim Wee Kiak recalled his dialogue session held at Sun Plaza over compulsory annuities;
     
  • 1 Sep 2007 Baey Yam Keng again, writing about his chat session at Queenstown Library about the Central Provident Fund (CPF);
     
  • 10 Aug 2007 Lam Min Pin gushed about the National Day parade;
     
  • 23 Jul 2007 Lim Wee Kiak wrote about racial harmony day (see below);
     
  • 20 Jul 2007 Baey Yam Keng explained his views on Section 377A of the Penal Code;
     
  • 13 Jul 2007 Teo Ser Luck on "New Leaders in China".

Of these 8 posts over 4 months, Baey alone produced 4 entries. Of the 12 MPs who were supposed to be using the P65 blog to communicate with the "people", 8 of them had nothing to say in the period reviewed.

Baey was unique in more ways than just numbers. Two of his entries were quite detailed: his parliamentary speech in October and a long post about 377A in July.

In contrast, the others produced drivel such as this:

Promoting racial and religious harmony cannot be passive and leave to chance. By mixing the different races together in schools, in communities and in camps (our 3 melting pots) will not ensure that there will be harmony. We need active chefs to carefully stir the mixture and provide the right catalyst to ensure harmonious interactions. Grassroots organisations are good platform for such interactions to promote understanding and friendship among the different races.

-- Lim Wee Kiak, (Link)

 
MPs ' blogs from the UK


Paul Flynn
  

Intrigued that there were 34 UK MPs with individual blogs, I visited some of them. I took a particular interest in Paul Flynn's because he was from the Labour Party -- he's the MP for Newport West -- which currently forms the government in Britain. Is he reduced to saying safe things in defence of the government?

Not at all. In fact, it was quite refreshing to read an entry where he decried his fellow MPs' tendency to bay for Chief Constables' blood each time a police force makes a mistake when overall, they are doing a good job:

Hounding Chief Constables is a new blood sport

Brunstrom in North Wales and Ian Blair in London shared a wonderful record in reducing crime in the past two years. Brunstrom has bravely faced down the ridicule of the tabloids and cut road traffic deaths remarkably.

If he had been a Jeremy Clarkson rave-a-like who has presided over an increase in roads death, presumably that would have kept MPs off his back.

Ian Blair in London has had similar success with falling crime figures and changing the sleazy racial culture of the Met. He has been courageous, innovative and brilliantly successful. He has been sniped at police who have risen from the ranks. There is a corrosive tension between those and graduates like Blair who rose via the fast track. Some have been out to sabotage his career for years.

Of course both have made major mistakes. Who doesn't ? Changing two brave coppers for sychophantic jobsworths won't help.

-- Paul Flynn (Link

Here's another outspoken one:

Voodoo

To my astonishment more than 200 MPs signed up to an EDM demanding more NHS money for homeopathy.

The splendidly sane doctor and journalist Ben Goldacre has consistently exposed the empty claims of this voodoo medicine. It's science-free and they routinely suppress evidence of trials that prove the uselessness of their drugs. At best they are on a par with placebos.

The only good they do is to keep patients off powerful drugs that may have adverse side effects. No-one is harmed by sugar pills with a virtual nil atom content of active substances - just a memory.

Their best claim is that people get better with homeopathy. Of course they do. Most illnesses do not last for a lifetime. The human body is a miraculous healing organism. Many illnesses clear up anyway.

We are fortunate to live in an era with a sumptuous scientific heritage. Why do so many of our MPs cling to superstitions unworthy of the Dark Ages?

-- ibid 

 

You may agree with Paul Flynn or not, but what you can see at least is that the man has opinions and he is engaging the public over these issues.

 
MPs' blogs from New Zealand and Canada


Craig Foss
  

The best entry I came across in my web search for MPs' blogs was from a New Zealand parliamentarian's. Craig Foss is the National Party MP for Tukituki constituency in Hawke's Bay, NZ. In a short post dated 15 November 2007, he knocked out the Prime Minister:

Recently the PM has claimed that her Government had delivered billions in personal income tax cuts.

That is totally and completely incorrect.

To clarify matters, at FEC yesterday I asked the IRD to confirm if there had been any personal income tax cuts or changes to any personal income tax thresholds over the past seven years.

IRD confirmed that there has not been any personal income tax cuts, nor changes to any thresholds, over the past 7 years.

-- Craig Foss' blog (Link)

Note by Yawning Bread: FEC= Finance and Expenditure Committee; IRD = Inland Revenue Department

The most technically sophisticated blog I found was a Canadian MP's. Garth Turner is the Liberal Party MP for Halton, a suburban area near Toronto. His blog is replete with video. On the current front page, he interviews fellow Liberal MP Geoff Regan (MP for Halifax-West) over the issue of government support for student loans when students come from needy families. Apparently, government support is right now only available for the first year of study, and a typical student is C$32,000 in debt by the time he graduates.

Video is a highly accessible format and it's an effective way to bring issues to life for lots of ordinary voters.

IT-proud Singapore however, will not be seeing such innovation soon. Our Films Act makes such efforts a crime, punishable by a fine of up to S$100,000 or 2 years' imprisonment. [3]

 
No video allowed - we're Singaporeans!

The official justification for banning films and videos that have a political purpose is that voters may be swayed emotively. This would debase politics -- the reasoning goes.

Skeptics will say that this presupposes that politics ought to be an entirely passionless, cerebral exercise for the elite, which, considering how our government's program is usually one of forcing people to swallow the bitter pills of perpetual economic restructuring, may not be far from the truth. After all, we only take bitter medicine when our head tells us that we should. Our heart, feelings and taste buds have to be suppressed or else we may put off taking the medicine. So it's important that appealing to emotions be verboten.


Scott Brison speaking in Parliament, Ottawa, Canada
  

The "decadent West" of course, has not absorbed this great wisdom from the East -- the East being just Singapore, actually. Thus you find in Canada a member of parliament who would stoop so low as to win the hearts of voters by posing nude in a calendar.

Scott Brison -- yes, he has a blog too, with updates every few days -- was a former Minister for Public Works in the previous Liberal government of Prime Minister Paul Martin. Now, of course, he's on the opposition benches, since the Liberal Party lost the last election. He represents the 'riding' (constituency) of Kings-Hants in the Province of Nova Scotia.

In 2006, Brison was featured in the theatre group Women of Wolfville's calendar. Titled 'What men are made of', the calendar showed men performing tasks not traditionally associated with masculinity: cooking, dusting and knitting. Brison himself was cleaning a fridge. The calendar aimed to raise money for the fight against prostate and ovarian cancer.

Last August, Brison, 40, made the news in another way. He got married to Maxime St. Pierre at a ceremony near his country home in picturesque Cheverie, Nova Scotia, becoming the first MP to marry his same-sex partner since gay marriage was legally recognised two years ago. Former prime ministers Joe Clark and Paul Martin -- whose government passed the same-sex marriage law -- were present.

What fun they're all having! Compared to that, politics in Singapore is dreary, oppressive, and going by the bloglessness of it, mute.


Scott Brison doing men's work
  

But before I go, I'll leave you with the calendar pic. I know you'll curse me if I didn't.

Yawning Bread 


 

 

Other British MPs' blogs you might want to look at are:

Richard Spring, Conservative Party MP for West Sufffolk, 

Boris Johnson, Conservative Party MP for Henley-on-Thames, 

Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democratic Party MP for Hornsey and Wood Green.

 

Footnotes

  1. His blog can be found at http://siewkumhong.blogspot.com/ 
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  2. The list of UK MPs' blogs can be found at  http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/2007/08/03/test-article/. The figure of 646 MPs in the House of Commons was obtained from the UK Parliament's website. 
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  3. Section 33 of the Films Act says,
     
    Any person who (a) imports any party political film; (b) makes or reproduces any party political film; (c) distributes, or has in his possession for the purposes of distributing, to any other person any party political film; or (d) exhibits, or has in his possession for the purposes of exhibiting, to any other person any party political film, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the film to be a party political film shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years. 
     
    In the same Act, Interpretation (b) of "party political film" says it includes any film "which is made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore."
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Addenda

None