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Parsing politics: Westminster politicians put to the test as AI gives verdict on their answers

The UK government's answers at Westminster have been put to the test using AI.
The UK government's answers at Westminster have been put to the test using AI.

A Scots MP has deployed a parliamentary question-dodging detector, using artificial intelligence (AI) to scrutinise answers from UK Government ministers.

Owen Thompson MP plans to use the tech to independently analyse government responses after he became outraged at how often questions are unanswered.

The news comes after he accused Penny Mordaunt of using a “Jedi mind trick” – a supernatural manipulation technique made famous from the Star Wars movie series – to swerve questions in the House of Commons. Thompson fed official questions and answers from Hansard, the official report of all Parliamentary debates, into an AI computer program to ask for an instant ­analysis of the response.

Owen Thompson MP.
Owen Thompson MP.

He now hopes using AI can help restore transparency and build public trust in politics. The Midlothian MP said: “It is unbelievably frustrating to ask simple questions, which my constituents want answered, only to be bombarded with irrelevant guff that doesn’t address the original question.

“It is remarkable how often this happens. It was funny to see Penny Mordaunt squirm when I raised this in the chamber. It was as if I was letting the cat out of the bag. This kind of constant barrage of non-answers has serious ramifications.

“It undermines faith in the whole ­political process. People get to the point where they think: ‘What is the point in voting or caring about politics, if politicians can’t even answer a question or speak like human beings?’

“We hear so many over-egged horror stories about AI and what it will mean for our lives but this is a chance to use it as a force for good.”

‘They swerve issues on a daily basis’

Thompson intends to look at up to 20 questions and answers in the parliamentary chamber, run them through AI to assess them and then present the potential evidence of sophistry to Mordaunt, as Leader of the House of Commons.

He has urged colleagues from across the party spectrum to come forward with questions and answers from official government transcripts to be analysed.

He said his scheme would use AI to independently and impartially ­scrutinise a range of parliamentary questions and answers to determine whether they had been answered.

Thompson said: “This level of cynicism and lack of transparency is dangerous at any time but even more so when you have extremists of all types seeking to ­undermine our freedom and democracy.

“So far, it is not looking great for the UK Government. Preliminary results show what we suspected all along – they swerve issues on a daily basis.”

The MP said that a recent case in point was when SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn asked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak earlier this month if he would apologise about his crude £1,000 bet with Piers Morgan over the chances of controversial UK Government plans to send ­asylum seekers to Rwanda being successful.

Sunak replied: “We may have a ­principled disagreement on this: I believe, and we believe, that if someone comes to this country illegally, they should not be able to stay and they should be removed. That is why we are committed to our Rwanda scheme.”

Thompson said: “According to the ­independent assessment of AI, he didn’t even come close to answering the question.

“The technology said of his response: ‘The Prime Minister does not directly address the question of whether he will apologise but he does state his position on the issue of asylum seekers’.”

The plan to use AI has been welcomed by fellow Scots MPs. They have hailed it as a step towards rebuilding trust and engagement in politics, Thompson said.

He added: “We need to stop the rot, stop certain politicians trying to dupe the public who they are meant to serve.

“This is a cross-party thing – we all need to see people being held to account.

“AI can be a force for good ­ushering in a new era of trust, accountability and participatory governance.”

Commons leader Mordaunt said: “Ministers of course have a duty to Parliament to account for their decisions and actions. Whilst innovation is to be encouraged, Mr Thompson’s initiative does beg the question: why is he asking AI to do the job that he was elected to do himself? This sounds like yet another waste of time and taxpayers’ money from the SNP.”

Answers to questions from Scottish MPs to UK Government ministers are run through AI analysis:

Question: Kirsten Oswald, SNP MP: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to reduce the environmental impact of disposable vaping products.

Answer: Steve Barclay: In October 2023, the Government launched a consultation on smoking and youth vaping. As part of this consultation, the UK Government and devolved administrations are considering restrictions on the sale and supply of disposable vape products due to the environmental impacts of disposable vapes. We are currently analysing the feedback we received.

AI analysis: The answer provides a clear overview of the government’s approach to addressing the environmental impact of disposable vaping products. It acknowledges the issue and indicates that steps are being taken to assess potential regulatory measures. However, the response lacks specific details regarding concrete actions that have been implemented or are planned beyond the consultation process.

Question: Owen Thompson, SNP MP, on Gaza: How many children have to be killed before the UK Government stop the linguistic gymnastics and call for an immediate ceasefire?

Answer: Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office: As we showed at the United Nations, we are working towards achieving a sustainable ceasefire. In the run-up to that, we want to see humanitarian pauses that are as long and as immediate as possible. That is the policy that we will continue to pursue.

AI analysis: The answer provided does not directly address the specific points raised in the question. While Mr Mitchell’s response touches on related topics, it does not directly answer the specific questions posed, nor does it satisfactorily address the concerns raised about the UK Government’s position on the situation.

Question: Deidre Brock, SNP MP: The Electoral Commission chair warned recently that the Government’s strict new rules on voter ID risk excluding certain voter groups and leave the Conservative Party open to the charge of bias. I and many others have thought for some time that this was simply an attempt at voter suppression from the government, so does the Leader of the House agree with an erstwhile Cabinet colleague that the new Tory rules are simply, as he put it, an attempt at “gerrymandering”? Will she bring a debate on this important issue to the House before the next general election?

Answer: Penny Mordaunt: It appears that the hon. Lady is planning to follow in the footsteps of many a great antipodean election guru by using a brilliant new strategy of equating criticism of the SNP’s performance with criticism of Scotland itself. The latter is a landmass of approximately 30,000 square miles, populated by brilliant, creative, stoic people; the former is a ramshackle separatist movement, full of people who have turned maladministration into an art form.

AI analysis: The answer provided by Penny Mordaunt does not directly address the question posed regarding the government’s voter ID rules and the accusation of “gerrymandering”. Instead, Mordaunt’s response appears to pivot to criticising the Scottish National Party and defending the Conservative government’s actions in Scotland.