A despairing Nathan Jones questions whether Prime Minister’s Question time in the House of Commons is fit for purpose.
Sitting down to watch Prime Minister’s Questions should really be a pleasure. Indeed, for a session supposedly aimed at informing the electorate, its 12pm weekday slot ensures that tuning in is something of a luxury for most. However, it is increasingly hard to get excited about Parliament’s weekly gladiatorial spectacle.
This is partly due to the nature of combat involved. Formerly praised by successive US Presidents for its ability to hold politicians publicly to account, today’s defensive weapons (platitudes, side-steps and straight-up refusing to answer the question) bear more resemblance to the padded bats of TV’s Gladiators than any weapon brandished in the Colosseum. This blunts the purpose of the endeavour – any political accountability is negated by the lack of any responsibility to answer the question. However, such a function would likely be useless in the current chamber anyway, with a Speaker so politicised that his neutrality is constantly called into question.
The impact of PMQs on Britain’s current political environment should also be considered. The rise and rise of anti-political feeling in the UK, evidenced in part by the increasing success in the polls of Nigel ‘man-in-the-pub’ Farage, has left many Britons feeling disillusioned and disconnected from politics. PMQs should, in theory, be an excellent way of reaching the disengaged; televised accountability could persuade the untrusting that someone is holding those dastardly politicians to their word. But when just 12% of the public feel PMQs make them proud of Parliament, and only 36% agree that they are informative (Hansard Society), it is perhaps worth considering whether they are doing more bad than good.
Comments like the above should really be followed by a grand proposal for reform, which is clearly beyond the purview of this blog, but it does seem to me as though some self-reflection on this matter from the political classes would be no bad thing. Perhaps then, we could gain something of genuine value from our famous weekly knockabouts, rather than building, brick-by-brick, on the current edifice of political discontent.