The Lowdown on… Prime Minister’s Questions
So this may seem a bit of a random topic to do an article on, especially as Trump-mania in America has recently taken our attention away from our own political system. It turns out that if you’re interested in Politics but don’t know a huge amount about the different parties and people, that PMQs is a very useful tool. The only reason that I decided to look into it is because videos of Jeremy Corbyn looking uncomfortable while David Cameron and the tories laugh seem to be clogging up my Twitter feed more and more. So I thought I needed to know what It was all about. Firstly we have to start with a pretty important question:
What is Prime Ministers Questions?
It’s a political convention here in Britain where the Prime minister is obliged to answer questions from other MPs about the ways in which he is running the country. It’s been around for hundreds of years, and until 1881 the questions would come in whatever order the MPs would stand to ask them, and whenever they saw fit to ask them. In 1881, our prime minister was William Gladstone. Since he was in his 70s, the House of Commons decided to implement a time limit on these questions so that he wouldn’t have to stand and be working so long. Winston Churchill then changed the structure again and said that PMQs could only happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays. PMQs was known as lively but structured, however speakers (sort of like referees) have noted that the behaviour of MPs has got rowdier and rowdier over the last couple of decades. It was Tony Blair that created the half hour long PMQs on a Wednesday that we know today.
That, in a nutshell, is what PMQs is and how long it’s been about. On the face of it it’s a great custom. It’s a chance for us all to check in with our PM’s plans for running the country and stuff, but recently it’s sort of become less about that.
What’s it like now?
I get the idea that PMQs is supposed to be very open and public now, making use of the technology we have now that we didn’t have when it was introduced. Some sites will live stream it on the Wednesday as it is happening, and if something particularly important or shocking happens, we can usually see it trending on social media. This is one of the things we have to thank the internet for because it’s a good way to stay informed and it means that we the public know exactly what is going on in these sessions. You can also attend the questions (if you can contact your local MP) but tickets are in demand and few and far between. You can also watch each one on iPlayer.
When Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party, he introduced questions from members of the public rather than his own questions. It’s thought that he did this in order to change the dramatic nature of the questions and responses. As noble as the intention is, it actually seems to have had the opposite effect. There are videos flocking the internet of Corbyn standing silently while the Tories just laugh and jeer at him, waiting for the noise to die down so he can finish his question.
Why should we care?
The reason we should care is very simple. We deserve to know the answer to these questions. We elected this person, and we deserve to know how they are planning to take care of us. There are a number of problems with PMQs which mean that we are not getting the answers to these questions. I watched this latest broadcast and I think there are two main problems with the whole thing.
Firstly, I don’t understand why every four seconds or so there has to be a loud jeer of either agreement or dismissal from the other MPs. What does it achieve? It brings the proceedings to a halt, and I hate to think how much more could be done and how much more painless it would be if they all just shut up! The year plenary meetings we have at my university are conducted with more professionalism than the PMQs. Occasionally the speaker does succeed in shutting people up, and then for a little while it goes smoothly, until someone says something deliberately inflammatory and the MPs rile up again. We have countless videos online that prove how disruptive this can be. You’re adults! Grow up and stop acting like children.
Secondly, David Cameron came into this PMQs with a huge agenda. He wanted to make Jeremy Corbyn answer for the anti-semitic issues that Labour have been facing recently, and rightly so I should think. BUT I hate to break it to you Mr Cameron, this session is called Prime Minister’s Questions – not Jeremy Corbyn’s questions. Jeremy Corbyn asks many questions in this session that get either completely ignored, or brushed over in favour of Dodgy Dave’s tirade against him. It is not until Tory representative Mary Robinson asks a question about 17 minutes in that he actually answers anything satisfactorily. It doesn’t matter which party you support, you can’t deny the fact that David Cameron does very little question answering when the questions don’t come from his own party.
Funnily enough, even though I think our Prime Minister’s Questions are not as productive as they should be, I actually think they’re incredibly useful to the public. It shows us the true colours of the people we put into power. If you are incapable of waiting for your turn to speak or answering a question when asked, then how are we supposed to believe that you are capable of running the UK? PMQs paints a picture of a rowdy boys club government who are more concerned with humiliating each other than they are with giving the public an honest representation of how they’re going to do things (which, let’s face it, is the whole point). I’ll be watching it very closely when it comes to choosing who I vote for in the next general election.