There is currently no need for any MPs to crawl in person to any party leaders in the House of Commons, argues Richard Heller 

Our fearless leader, who once claimed to be wrestling Johnny Virus to the floor, now wants his MPs back in the House of Commons to bay at Keir Starmer at Question Time.

Poor Boris Johnson is acting like some movie star on the slide after a run of turkeys who desperately needs his entourage around him, or like poor old Elvis Presley in his later years at Las Vegas, who needed his backing singers to do the high notes for him. If Premier League footballers can perform without live fans, a park player like Boris Johnson should be able to do the same. Has he never heard of canned applause? It's been around even longer than canned peas, and today's advanced technology would easily permit faraway fawning and socially-distant sycophancy.

There is no need for any MPs to crawl in person to any party leaders in the House of Commons. The place is insanitary enough without them. It's all very well for them to hawk and sneeze over each other, but it is not fair of MPs to expose their support workers and Parliamentary staff and police to additional risks of infection. There is certainly no reason for Jeremy Corbyn to haunt the place. Has no one told him that he is no longer Labour leader?

In fairness to Boris Johnson, he is not the first to need a claque at Prime Minister's Questions. Tony Blair was the worst. He never liked the House of Commons and he never went there without arranging one in advance, a case of clunk-claque every trip.

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It would be easier to replace toadying MPs with Alexa, the multitasking Amazon assistant.  She could ask a Question at PMQs in the normal way ("Number 5. Sir"). The Prime Minister would give the normal meaningless reply ("I have been in a meeting") and then say "Alexa, ask me supplementary number 5") and she would say "May I congratulate my Right Honourable Friend on his recent visit to Dudbury and did he hear my constituents' hearts throbbing with joy after his speech?" Alexa could get through many more such questions than live MPs, but it might drive her crazy. MPs go through years of conditioning to become lobotomized lobbyfodder. A few don't last the course and retain career-threatening symptoms of independence and critical thought. Alexa, with her fierce if artificial intelligence, might well be the same way. She could easily flip out at Prime Minister's Questions. She might suddenly blurt "Face it, squire, I've seen plastic waste that could do a better job than you. I'm taking over."

Alexa would be a very popular Prime Minister. There would be no need for elections: voters could tell her directly what they wanted. The ultimate in taking back control. "Alexa, save the NHS" or "Alexa, clean the air" or "Alexa, rebalance the economy on a basis of neo-classical endogenous growth." Has anyone yet asked Alexa to wipe out the virus?

If we cannot have Alexa to run our government, perhaps we could ask a guest Prime Minister from another country. If we were really lucky, we might get Jacinda Ardern. She not only won a home Test series for New Zealand against Johnny Virus but she even remembered to make alternative provision for this year's no-show by the Easter Bunny. Only recently she and her partner were turned out of a café because of her own lockdown regulations, an incident which other politicians might have staged for waiting cameras but in her case was totally genuine.

It would be salutary for all political leaders to have to offer themselves for selection by another country at regular intervals. Boris Johnson might hear the terrible words I used to hear when teams were picked on the school playground: no, it's your turn to have him.

However, it would probably be too difficult to organize a job swop of major world leaders. After all, several of them cannot leave their countries for fear of arrest.  Peter Tatchell is ready to pounce on them even if the International Criminal Court is too cumbersome. Perhaps there could be regular multinational opinion polls to establish which leaders might be popular, or even recognized, in other countries. It's a fair guess that Donald Trump would get heavily negative ratings almost everywhere  ? but unfortunately this would probably boost his hold on his own supporters in the United States. Trump would certainly take it as a triumph that he has made America as hated abroad as in its great days. It might well do more harm to him electorally to show that he is loved by foreigners, but this would be beyond the generating capacity of present-day Fake News technology.

In any case, the latest polls suggest that Trump may actually be impervious to fake news. After all, he has proved impervious to reality.

11 votes

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