Thursday, 25 October 2007

Unparliamentary language

Got a text from my mother this morning, saying I'd featured on Radio 4's "Yesterday in Parliament". Can only think this is because Sir Patrick Cormack was rendered apoplectic by the Minister's response to my Justice Q, which was quite entertaining.

This reminded me of the time maybe a year or more ago when I received a rather unsettling email, saying they'd heard a piece on "Yesterday in Parliament" about the use of unparliamentary language, with the example given of something said that week in the Chamber by "the outspoken MP, Kerry McCarthy". I was told by the correspondent that I was foul-mouthed, and a disgrace to my profession (or something along those lines), and, what's more, potentially jeopardising the good reputation of decent colleagues with similar surnames, whose constituents might mishear the programme.

Cue panic in the office, with me frantically trying to remember exactly what I'd said that week. A quick trawl of Hansard revealed a couple of inoffensive questions, so we resorted to calling the BBC. Several phone calls later, we discovered that the piece had in fact been about "the outspoken MP, Fiona Mactaggart", who'd decided that the use of the word 'effluence' was not sufficiently evocative to describe a particular problem with - I think - sewers in her constituency. I later discovered that not only had Fiona received an identical letter, but so had Sarah McCarthy-Fry... I didn't quite get an apology from the complainant - she seemed to think it proved her original point!

Gordon Brown was also accused of using unparliamentary language yesterday, in suggesting David Cameron was "misleading" the House. As was made clear by the Speaker in responding to subsequent points of order, however, it's OK to say "misleading", but not to say "deliberately misleading" - i.e. you can get things wrong, but not on purpose.

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