I Agree With Nick: Scrap PMQs

by George_East on March 25, 2015

I really never thought I’d find myself agreeing with Nick Clegg over anything but his call a few months back for the weekly pantomime of Prime MinistersGeorge-Osborne-laughing[1] Questions to be scrapped was absolutely spot on.  Today saw the last clash between David Cameron and Ed Miliband before the election.  The Tories used it to wrong foot Labour over VAT (frankly Ed Miliband should have seen that coming – his advisers really are shit).   Cue much baying and braying in the Commons and much gloating among the Blairite and right wing commentariat.

Yet, what on earth has the Tories plans on VAT in a parliament that will only be elected on May 7th and in respect of which they may not be in government, got to do with holding the executive to account (which, after all, is supposed to be the constitutional point of the process).   To be fair, obtaining a pledge that the Tories won’t increase VAT was actually something of substance – much more than the crude name calling and one-upmanship that is normally the stock in trade of that 30 minutes every Wednesday afternoon.  The fake laughter, the moronic waving of order papers, the barracking – all straight out of public school and Oxbridge College debating society japes.  It is embarrassing.

Our ahistorical media like to suggest that PMQs has been around forever.  In reality it was only founded in its modern form under Harold Macmillan in 1961 and has only been substantially like it is now since the Thatcher/Kinnock era (even then it was 2 x 15 minutes on a Tuesday and a Thursday, rather than one time for 30 minutes on Wednesday, which was a Blair era innovation).    It was the advent first of radio in the Commons and latterly of television that has finally turned it into the ridiculous circus it has become.  If Mrs Thatcher is said to have been one unasked question from resignation over Westland, then that is a reflection on the absurdity of our political process as much as Neil Kinnock’s missed opportunity.

Real accountability is not achieved through political jousting as some sort of posh boy sport but through the Commons using its powers to ensure that proper questions on policy or administration are answered thoroughly and completely.  This can be achieved much more effectively through the use of a forensic written question process than by playing to the media gallery with a few oral questions, in respect of which the Prime Minister can always evade because he has the last answer.

Like many parts of our political process, PMQs has become so teeth-gratingly terrible that I cannot even bear to watch anymore.   I don’t care who ‘won’ on a Wednesday lunchtime.  No one other than the Westminster Village pays any attention and the ‘result’ is forgotten by the end of the day.  It is said to be important for MPs morale – if that is so they need to grow the fuck up and get on with the tedious but critical business of holding the government to account.   Parliament is not there to make them feel better for fuck sake.

The House of Commons should make today’s PMQs not just the last one of this Parliament, or the last between Cameron and Miliband, but the last one ever.   Make it go away.  Now. Please

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

John Stone March 25, 2015 at 8:39 pm

Couldn’t agree more. I loathe this weekly charade. Anyone behaving in my workplace the way Flashman and Robin do would be fired.


Jackie_South March 26, 2015 at 9:13 am

I agree Prime Minister’s Question Time has for a very long time now just been dire – that predates Cameron-Miliband by many years although it is particularly excruciating now.

But, like Top of the Pops, however bad it’s got, we’d still miss it when it’s gone.


George_East March 26, 2015 at 10:22 am

The thing with Top of the Pops though was that however bad 90% of it was you could hold out for one the gem of a song they’d always sneak in somewhere. Whereas PMQs – 100% bad.


Samuel F March 26, 2015 at 1:22 pm

You don’t need to double space. Modern computers make it unnecessary. You’re not using a typewriter.


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