The dictionary definition of ‘purdah’ suggests that it is a practice of certain Muslim and Hindu societies whereby women are screened from men or strangers, especially by means of a curtain.
As regards the UK political system, as I understand it, the word has come to be applied to an agreed (or possibly legislated?) four to six week period in the run-up to any election or referendum during which potentially-contentious announcements or pronouncements that might be advantageous or the opposite to any candidate, participant or Party cannot be made by central or local government.
At some point earlier this week – probably when 28 days to Referendum Day (Thursday 23rd June) was reached – the UK therefore officially entered purdah on the issue of whether it should remain in the EU or depart.
Some readers may be pleased, or even relieved, to learn that after discussions with my immediate superiors (and indeed the office of the editor) at the Rust, I have voluntarily agreed to enter my own personal period of purdah on this important issue – not only to allow others to chart the course of the remainder of the campaign but, as advised by my GP, so that I may keep my blood pressure – which has been rising exponentially in recent months – under better control.
In drawing my contributions on the EU Referendum to a close I would only comment as follows:
Last night at 8.00pm on BBC1 I deliberately tuned in out of interest to watch what I believed to be the first of about nine TV debates that have been lined up by television broadcasters in the final weeks of the campaign – How Should I Vote? – The EU Debate, hosted by Victoria Derbyshire from Glasgow.
It featured a panel of Alan Johnson (Labour) and Alex Salmond (SNP) representing the Remain camp and Diane James (UKIP MEP) and Liam Fox (Tory) representing the Leave camp in front of three distinct audience ‘banks’, all members apparently aged between 18 and 29, apparently consisting of committed Remain, Leave and undecided members of the public respectively. Of said panel – for what it is worth – the best performer on the night was Mr Salmond, who not only came across as a regular member of the human race (quite important, that), but was prepared to be fair to his opponents whilst also holding his own, apparently logical, opinions.
Unfortunately, however, I have to report that I found myself unable to watch more than fifteen minutes of this programme before bailing out.
The producers of the programme – partly no doubt mindful of the BBC’s overriding need to make a passing effort at apparent impartiality – had saddled the project with an horrendously unwieldly set-up for a 60-minute transmission slot.
This began with three vox-pop self-introductions from random members of the audience explaining that which they felt they most needed enlightenment upon, each statement impenetrably vague and instantly forgotten, before the first (set-up question) was coaxed by Victoria Derbyshire from a male ‘A’ level student [tellingly hoping to study politics and economics at university] – “Will I be able to get a job if Brexit happens?”
For some, including me, Ms Derbyshire is a bit of a ‘Marmite’ presenter but last night the fact that she was struggling from the get-go to chair proceedings with any deft ‘light and shade’ touches or elan was only partly her fault. The show had been set up in a manner destined to fail and her minor but glaring errors – such as twice mixing up whether the audience member she was introducing was a Remainer or a Leaver – were not a prime cause of my overall negative impression.
Faced with a programme structure in which there was only 90 to 120 seconds for each contributor to say his or her piece – and because in addition politicians are pathologically incapable of directly answering the question posed them without trotting out the verbiage they’ve been practising all week first – La Derbyshire was regularly forced to adopt a “Will you stop please talking when I’m interrupting …” attitude in trying to keep things moving and introduce the various prospective participants who were holding their hands up in an attempt to get a word in.
In short, the whole thing was a messy and unsatisfactory waste of time – largely because (I’m sorry to say) asking members of the British public to participate in a public debate is an essentially futile enterprise in terms of covering or debating serious issues, still less coming to any sensible conclusions on them.
In coming to my own – and some might think less than sensible – conclusion before I disappear on my sabbatical, I have decided to place to one side the thorny issues of the economy and immigration and instead concentrate upon the two that seem to me to be key.
Firstly, the question of sovereignty and democratic accountability. Naturally, of course those who run it are aghast at the prospect of the UK voting to quit the EU. Why? Because [mixing my metaphors once again] if the UK cuts and runs in order to leave the shrinking ship, then surely Holland, Czechoslovakia and even France – whose voters and/or politicians have all expressed their desire to hold referenda on the EU – might soon follow suit … and, who knows, after that maybe the whole decaying edifice will come tumbling down to the ground earlier than it might otherwise have done anyway?
Secondly, voting to Leave is the best chance England will ever have of getting rid of the millstone of Scotland from the UK.
It is worth reminding ourselves of that.