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PMQs – the spectacle and farce – is rotten and out of touch and needs radical reform

David Cameron & Ed Miliband at PMQsIt’s been a long, tedious road; but here we are. In regular slots since the 13 October 2010 Dave and Ed have faced off in gladiatorial combat over the dispatch box. How did it go? It was pretty poor, from Labour’s perspective. Especially when, for those who score such things, Ed Miliband had come out on top.

As you might expect, Ed started with the question mark over the Tories’ VAT plans. Referencing Dave’s retirement plan and his desire to give “straight answers to Dave questions“, he was asked whether he would rule out a VAT rise? As Osborne had previously said he had “no plans“, it was hardly shocking that – for once – he gave an affirmative answer to the VAT rise.

Unfortunately, Ed had expected the usual obfuscation and nonsense and was caught on the hop. Clearly surprised, his follow up – does the PM agree that cuts are due to be greater under the next Parliament than this? – he hit back with a question of his own: does Labour rule out a National Insurance rise? Ed looked very uncomfortable and never regained the initiative. It doesn’t matter that answers given are the Prime Minister’s prerogative, it made the Labour leader look weak and indecisive. And that was it, each subsequent question, on net migration, on NHS reorganisation, on cuts to the top rate of income tax, all these were effortlessly side-stepped and countered with accusations of “Labour’s jobs tax“. For someone who’s been doing this for four-and-a-half years and knowing what a slippery customer Dave is, Ed should have seen this coming a mile off and gone with something else instead. Remember, as Kevin Maguire notes, PMQs is solely a point scoring exercise – Labour would have been better off leaving the Tory VAT uncertainty to fester until they ruled it out themselves.

The rest of the session was the usual Parliamentary theatre. Though it’s worth noting that while he was happy to denounce the SNP and liken Ed to “Alex Salmond’s poodle“, he could barely hide his glee in a reply to a Scottish Labour MP that his seat is likely to be taken by the nationalists. A point to ponder on, that.

Most Wednesdays, I am one of those very sad sacks who regularly tune in. I can’t help myself. But like nearly everyone else, I think it is awful as a spectacle and sums up everything that is wrong with how we do politics in Britain. The principle of holding the Prime Minister to account is fine. The practice on the other hand is a farce. There is no accountability, no straight answers, just bellowing, strutting, and public school bullying. At least this is something Labour understands, and has pledged to look at the format as well as introduce regular people’s question times where the PM is grilled directly by members of the public. This is much better. Otherwise PMQs will carry on much as it has done, an exemplar of all that is rotten and out-of-touch in what passes for this country’s democracy.

3 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    God help him on the TV debates because now the Tories know if you surprise Miliband you can catch him out make him look indecisive.

    Not hard to answer the Tories, we have no plans at this time Mr Cameron to see the need of putting up NI.

    If the Tories had come back all you need to state, “at this time we do not see the need to put up NI”, simple answer which is what a good politician would have known but Miliband is not experienced or he is not good enough.

    After this the whole thing turned into another shouting match which the speaker simple could not control because he is as weak as they come.

    These people are going to run the country, god help us all.

  2. David Pavett says:

    PMQs are political theatre of a rather low sort. There is only one place for them: in a theatre. There the audience could boo and cheer and make stupid noises instead of MPs.

    The exchanges themselves should be replaced by written questions and answers placed on a well-designed website giving easy access and good search tools. With the theatrical aspect removed this could be a genuinely informative part of holding government to account.

    I think that Labour’s idea of questions directly to the PM from members of the public is populist nonsense. They would have to be selected giving power to the selectors. To be fair this would have to be with at least the tacit approval of the political parties. It would be an atrempt to by-pass parties in a democracy which us based on them.

    1. gerry says:

      David – agreed re the wretched amateur dramatics of PMQs. They are all about fake anger, fake outrage, fake hysteria – bread and circuses for the tiny watching public.

      And agreed – public question times are also pretty toothless too: just look at BBC question time any week to see that.

      But really the root of the problems with holding ministers to account is that since the 1980s and the ideological victory of Thatcherism/neoconservatism, neo liberalism call it what you will, so little actual political or economic power actually lies with ministers, the PM or indeed politicians! We all know where real power lies – with the EU, the IMF, the World Bank, central banks, hedge funds, City Mafiosi, big corporations : and these bodies are never held to account for anything they do even after taxpayers rescued their systems in 2008! David Cameron is merely the local branch manager of this neolib system, with all the non-existent power of a branch manager.

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