Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 26 February 2010

Where is Everybody?

H/T Witterings from Witney and Mark Wadsworth

How many politicians does it take to have a debate?

If you can tear your eyes away from the person of Nigel Farage in mid-tirade (at about 1.11), you will notice the tiers of empty seats in the chamber. Either they had 'evacuated' the area to spare people the spectacle of Tilly - sorry, Farage - in attack mode or most of the delegates had better things to do that day.

The sight of rows of empty seats in parliament is nothing new - remember when we first heard of 'doughnuting' - but there are times when television makes it all too clear that the lights are on but there's practically no-one at home.

All of which led to Tavern regulars wondering if there's a critical mass. For instance, if there are six people there apart from the Chair, then a speech will surely be made. And five. And even four. But what about three? Slightly embarrassing, perhaps - do you make eye contact? - but you've still got enough for a vote, after all, local quorum rules aside.

But what happens when you get to two? An involuntary intimacy where the interlocutors trade opinions and insults only with each other, while the Chair looks on. No chance of a decisive vote here unless protocol allows the Chair to play. Does that mean that if only three are present and one leaves, the others have to pack up their toys and go home?

And what if there is only one? Does he or she make the speech even if nobody has turned up to hear it? After all, there may be millions of taxpaying television viewers out there waiting to hear - it's hardly fair to lose your chance of raising an issue just because everyone else fancied a lie-in or an early night. It's one of those 'Does-the-light-stay-on-in-the-fridge?' questions.

And in the case of the European Parliament, do the interpreters have to sit in their box all day on the offchance the absent delegates decide to attend - rather in the manner of harem ladies awaiting the arrival of the Sultan? And how did the ones in attendance during Farage's speech translate his picturesque imagery?

Doubtless there are readers out there more knowledgeable than the Tavern regulars about political procedure and we eagerly await enlightenment on all these matters.


  1. Don't they just turn up, sign in and then go back home again or to the nearest bar?

  2. Good point, Demetrius.

    You remind me that I spent rather too much of the 80's in a wine bar in SW1 where the ring of a bell would precipitate an exodus of suits in varying states of inebriation.