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
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 . For a country that likes to claim that we're at the cutting edge of information technology, 1 out of 94 is quite embarrassing.
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.
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:
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:
Here's another outspoken one:
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
But before I go, I'll leave you with the calendar pic. I know you'll curse me if I didn't.
© Yawning Bread