During yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron (the prime minister) responded to a question from Ed Miliband (leader of the opposition) by saying “as usual, he writes the questions before listening to the answers”:
As usual, he writes the questions before listening to the answers.
I found this quite a confusing statement. Surely it is impossible to do anything else? It is a consequence of the question/answer dynamic that the question must come before the answer.1 In fact, the answer only exists once there is a question to which it can be attached. An answer without a question is not an answer. It is just some words or numbers. The words may contain facts, or opinion, but they are just facts or opinion, not answers. “Kiki Dee” is just Kiki Dee. She is not an answer. She is a human. Someone needs to say “Which female singer recorded the 1976 hit single Don’t Go Breaking My Heart with Elton John?” first2.
Questions come first. Questions, then answers. Sometimes there aren’t even answers. The questions just float around, alone, for all eternity. Questions can exist independently of answers. This is why questions are best.
Of course, I have only shown part of David Cameron’s response in the above video. Here is another video which shows his response in a wider context. It’s a bit longer, but worth watching in full as it shows the standard of debate which takes place in the very heart of our democracy and the civility with which our elected leaders conduct themselves:
I imagine that what David Cameron meant is that Ed Miliband had written the next question before listening to previous answer. But “next” and “previous” are important words here. They are the difference between a statement making sense and a statement being gibberish. It would have been nice if just one Conservative backbencher, amid all of the jeering and cheering3, had shouted “Hold on, what the bloody hell are you going on about?”4
1. The quiz show “Jeopardy!” attempted to reverse this question/answer relationship, but really, the dynamic remained the same; it just involved a reworking of the related sentence structures to disguise questions as answers and vice versa (answers as questions).
2. This possibly isn’t a great example as I imagine someone has already said this. The answer is Kiki Dee, by the way.
3. I hate the way MPs always jeer at everything anyone ever says and pretend every retort uttered by their leader is the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. Even if it made sense “As usual, he writes the questions before he listens to the answers” would be a rubbish comeback. “Yo momma is so fat she writes the questions before she listens to the answers.” “My mother-in-law, my mother-in-law. I wouldn’t say my mother-in-law is ugly but she writes the questions before she listens to the answers.” Rubbish. Even Anne Robinson wouldn’t accept a line like that “Whose dog taught them to say ‘sausages’? Who gets fed by the pigeons? Who writes the questions before listening to the answers? It’s time to vote off the Weakest Link.” (both the “taught to say ‘sausages'” and “fed by the pigeons” lines are genuine by the way. Anne Robinson actually said that on television, and someone was paid to write it for her).
4. A question which is always worth asking.