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Is satire dead in parliament?

3 min read

Charlie Brooker's sister in law and Labour MP Rupa Huq is calling for 27 year old legislation that bans parliamentary footage being used for satire to be overhauled 'in the name of transparency and open government'.


Parliament has some pretty arcane rules. I raised the use of broadcast Parliamentary footage on television in the Commons and whether it was time for a reboot. 27 year old regulations would be considered dated by any other workplace standards, so surely I reasoned, at the very least the government should reconsider them. But Chris Grayling leader of the House swatted away my suggestion in true Tory killjoy form telling us that he disagreed.

The issue was brought to my attention by my constituent and brother in law Charlie Brooker. He’d like to be able to use Commons clips in his Screenwipe news review show but as this is classified as “satire” he’s banned from doing so under the 1988 edict. Andrew Neil’s Daily Politics meanwhile, is classified as a magazine programme can feature the whole of PMQs despite its comedic leanings with moments like the offshoot song “The Way to Amarillo”.

1988 was a different world: not only was it before the fall of the Berlin wall, pre EU expansion and at a time when Thatcher was at the height of her powers, but it was an era long before the internet. In 2016 footage swirls around the twittersphere, youtube and elsewhere speedily, in ways unimaginable 3 decades earlier. Grayling by contrast is like King Canute denying the tide of change in the wifi world and the tide of popular opinion. Surely those initial hyper-sensitivities expressed by MPs around the first televising of Parliaments have eroded over time. As legislators we should be accountable to our public and that includes allowing voters to laugh at us and MPs being able to laugh at each other.

As things stand US comedy shows broadcast in America can use film from the mother of Parliaments but here in blighty we can’t. This anomaly needs sorting out in the name of transparency and open government as well as for comedic reasons. After all this is no tinpot dictatorship where freedom of expression is suppressed. The UK is supposed to have a free and fair press, to exercise useful check and balance functions to stop the state becoming all too powerful.

Grayling has demonstrated how out of touch he and his Tory chums are. Whichever way you look at it he’s had a sense of humour failure. Of course some might say that as the adversarial knockabout of PMQs which is the best known spectacle of my workplace demonstrates, Parliament is clearly beyond satire.

Dr Rupa Huq is the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton

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