Most of the time, the
Houses of Parliament is something that makes me proud to be British. The
representation from every corner of the UK, the ability to question ministers,
parliamentary privilege; this to me is what real democracy is all about.
Other times, I want to
punch the walls of the impressive gothic lobby at how often that democracy is
Today was one of those
I was watching the
questions to the DCMS ministers this morning and was pleased when the subject
of the broadband roll-out arose.
Nigel Evans, the
independent MP for Ribble Valley, kicked off with a lame joke about the Obama 'selfie'
scandal, saying if the secretary of state, Maria Miller, came to Lancashire,
she would find it "a bit hit and miss" if trying to upload one taken with him.
Yes, we all groaned, but
the over-arching point was a good one.
"In Lancashire, only
55% have access to superfast broadband, whereas nationally it is 65%," he said.
"Will she ensure that Lancashire is not going to be left in the digital dinosaur
age but 100% will get access to it?"
Miller had stats to
say it was actually available to 67% in the Lancashire and used the figures to
show the government was making progress, but ended with the line: "We are
making progress but clearly we need to make sure that continues."
Ok, nothing ground
breaking there. Happy an MP has brought it up but let's try something a little
more taxing for the minister, shall we?
Step up Sir Nick
Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP for Devon North, who had a much less jocular tone
with Miller and a real question to ask.
"The secretary of
state referred to the 10% that is most difficult to reach with superfast
broadband," he said. "Does she recognise in areas like mine that 10% is in fact
far bigger than that and that the rural economy is very dependent on small
micro businesses and much higher than average levels of home working?"
"Will she get on with
allocating the £250m that has been set aside for this 10% and will she not make
it match funded by already broke local authorities?"
Alas Miller, going
unquestioned as is the nature of these things, used the question as an excuse
to say how great her party's plans were compared to the previous administration
and to bypass the real question of the £250m - something that can't be
allocated whilst the DCMS, local authorities and BT keep hidden where the BDUK
roll out is taking place due to state aid rules - with a coming soon trailer.
"My honourable friend is
absolutely right to say that making superfast broadband a priority infrastructure
project for this country was absolutely right for this government to decide to
do [we didn't hear him say that] and the plans we inherited from the party
opposite were lamentable [he didn't say that either]."
"He will know that we
have already allocated £250m, which we will be announcing shortly how that will
be used [so, it hasn't been allocated to specific projects yet then, has it?]
and also he will have noticed in the Autumn Statement an additional £10m for
the hardest to reach areas where we need innovative solutions [another fund
where details remain scarce]."
So, this didn't get
any of us much further.
But when Chi Onwurah,
Labour MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne Central, stood up I thought here we go. I
know this woman has balls and at least with the cheeky 'lamentable' comment
about the previous government's plans - Labour wanted everyone to have a
minimum of 2Mbps by 2012 by the way - she also had motivation to take the DCMS
to Ed Vaizey, who is the real minister in charge of broadband roll-out, she
said: "Under Labour's universal broadband pledge, everyone would now have
enjoyed a year of full access to decent broadband instead of the ongoing delay
and controversy we have."
Yes Onwurah! Now, go
in for the kill; why the delays? Why the cover ups? When can we have
"So can I ask the
minister if he will be sending out eChristmas cards this year and, if so, does
he take responsibility for all the problems so many people will still have receiving
YES, YOU GO... wait a
minute... a Christmas card joke? Really? You have your moment to stand there in
parliament and question the people running this much maligned scheme to try to
get some real answers, and you make a terrible joke about online cards?
Vaizey answered in his
BoJo-esq style, of course. With a wry smile and a gesture to John Bercow, he
said: "Mr. Speaker, call me old fashioned, but I send out physical Christmas cards.
You will receive one and so will the honourable lady."
And how they all
laughed; Vaizey, Onwurah, the gathered throngs - OK, tens - of MPs, whilst I
sat here with my head in my hands asking myself what is a point in a parliament
and questions to ministers if it is just all a chance to try out your stand-up
skills and make a mockery of a serious issue?
I have been
experiencing a lot of abuse via email and Twitter since starting to seek out
the postcode data and roll-out plans of the BDUK project. I have also been
condemned in public for posing difficult questions. I have watched other
outspoken individuals seeking out transparency for the project go through
All we want is the
answers and, when answered fully, we will get back in our boxes.
But let's face it; if
the best we are going to get from the opposition is a quip about festive
postcards, I think we all have to keep this up for some time and have quite a way
to go before the truth will truly be out there.