Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The sitting programme and lazy journalism

Parliament is in recess this week, so there'll be less political news without Question Time and the ongoing work of legislating to drive it. Meanwhile, on his blog, Colin Espiner takes issue with the fact that the House will be sitting for only 61 days this year, making the usual snide comments about lazy politicians being paid for doing not much. To which one can only say that elections naturally disrupt the Parliamentary calendar. Not only is there the election period itself, but there is also a lengthy post-election break. Parliament must sit within six weeks of an election, but exactly when, or for how long, are issues within the purview of the new Parliament, not the old. I should also take the opportunity to point people at Poneke's piece about the punishing realities of Parliament's schedule; it's not just about sitting days, and the upshot is that our MPs work rather longer hours than the gallery journalists who so airily judge them.

Espiner's real problem though seems to be his inability read a calendar:

The official reason for the drop is of course the election. The number of sitting days is set by MPs themselves, and everyone wants maximum campaigning time this year. But a cut of 30 days, at three days a week, is a ten-week block out of the Parliamentary year. Does this mean we’re in for a ten-week campaign? Quite possibly.
According to the House sitting programme, Parliament will begin its final session in the week of September 23rd. The last possible date for the election is November 15th. Assuming the final session lasts only that week (and it may not - it can go longer), that leaves space for a seven-week campaign - or for the election to be held a week earlier, on November 8th (or indeed, for Parliament to run over for a week, as it did last year, if it has pressing business to get through).

Contrary to Espiner's insinuations, there's no conspiracy here for the government to avoid public scrutiny. Parliament's sitting programme is set around the reliable framework of the school holidays and the need for an election. It's sufficiently reliable that, if you have a mind to, you can pretty much predict it long before it is formally set. But why let facts get in the way of shallow and lazy journalism?