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PMQs needs reforming but it shouldn’t be toned down

11 February 2014

To anyone in Westminster, Prime Minister’s Questions is terrific fun and a good measurement of how the leaders are doing every week. But what does the rest of the country think of this rip roaring event? The Hansard Society has released a new report Tuned in or Turned off? Public attitudes to Prime Minister’s Questions to find out whether the nation enjoys the session as much as the keen political watchers do.

The report suggests that PMQs are seen a ‘cue’ for wider perceptions of Parliament, most of which are negative. The public dislikes the pantomime atmosphere, the political point scoring and general behaviour of MPs — which is likened to a school playground. Polling from the report suggests that two thirds of the public think there is too much party political point-scoring instead of answering serious questions:

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The Hansard Society offers a package of reforms, including moving PMQs to a Tuesday or Wednesday evening — the timings currently mean the 55+ age group are most likely to watch the whole thing. The paper also suggests the format ‘should be varied to facilitate a more discursive approach, pursuing genuine debate on just a few topical areas’. Questions from the Leader of the Opposition should be reduced while a ‘sin bin’ penalty could be introduced for disorderly conduct, with the power to remove MPs from the chamber.

Commentators like Dan Hodges and Iain Martin may have a point arguing that PMQs has become a ‘joke’ and a ‘contemptible farce’, but reform should not take the heart out of the event. Moving it to a Tuesday/Wednesday evening could indeed engage more people but ‘genuine debate’ is never going to happen in just half an hour, whatever time that debate is held. Plus, a ‘sin bin’ shouldn’t be needed if the speaker has authority over the house — which Bercow still commands.

BuzzFeed’s successful efforts to report on PMQs through animated GIFs suggests the event has interest beyond the audience described in the Hansard Society report. One very welcome reform would be to scrap the ludicrously archaic restrictions on filming Parliament, forbidding the use of footage in a ‘comedic or satirical context’. Then we could finally have something like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in Britain. But there’s no need to turn PMQs into a dull Q&A purely to make the Commons look more agreeable. This would kill any interest in the event and push the public further away from ‘the great cockpit of the nation’.

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Show comments
  • Ron Todd

    We might learn a bit more if the PM and the important ministers could be questioned in some depth about important issues without point scoring or the would the PM like to say something about my constituency so I can get on the local news type of question.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Oh dear such meddling only demonstrates too well that too many people in the Westminster Freakshow haven’t got enough to do and like typical Westminster Daleks are running around going “Regulate, Regulate”.

    And no we don’t need Payne’s extremely stupid idea either. Parliament receives enough ridicule online without allowing some parasite to make money out of it.

  • AL

    People who don’t like it just miss the point.

  • madasafish

    PMQs = willy waving by MPs.. even female ones.

    I assume it’s designed for those whose reasoning ability is impaired- ie MPs.

    As a spectacle it ranks with football – and like football its impact is ephemeral..

    It shows the political class for what they really are: a bunch of wasters.

    (I could use a similar word for wasters…)

  • drydamol1


    You don’t have to vote or be interested in Politics to understand
    the Constructed Mess WE are in by the last 30 years of Government Policy .WE as
    in Public not the Country – Austerity ,pull the other one ! We the ordinary
    member of the Public haven’t a clue about Politics – Politics are made up BS to
    appease us .

    They have no empathy or sympathy never mind about Loyalty
    to this Country .This year our Foreign Aid Donation will be £50.8 Billion
    .Bailed out Banks since 2007 with Taxpayers Money to the tune of £332.4 Billion
    .Flood Victims – Totally Neglected ,Energy Companies Rip off ,Neglected
    ,Benefit Claimants and our most Vulnerable not only Neglected but kicked when
    they are down .Starve Councils so they Starve us ,Bedroom Tax ,Benefit Sanctions
    ,Workfare ,Immigrants preferential treatment if they can find them .

    Tragically the Deaths caused by the Draconian Atos
    Assessments and the treatment of our wounded Service Personal should have woken
    us up some years ago .By the end of 2015 1 Million police ,Hospital Staff
    ,Firemen and other service personal will have been cut by the Patriotic Loyal
    Government .The DWP have a two year backlog of seriously ill people waiting to
    see if they qualify to get PIP – most be will be dead by then .Scandalous .

    Anyone that does not support Radical Political System
    Change will just stay in their own bubble believing all the fed propaganda and
    the Illusion we live in a Democracy with a 3 Political Party choice .

    We have the choice but the same dressed up differently
    .Some people that are ignorant of facts and believe the Liar ID Smith to think
    the Countries downfall is Benefit Fraud .Its a drop in the Ocean to what Politicians
    Steal .Us Pensioners are the biggest drain on the Benefit System and so we
    should be ,worked all our lives and for what our children and their children’s
    uncertainty .Now they are talking about Privatising the Old Age Pension –
    another Profit making scheme .

  • El_Sid

    Forbid the broadcast of excerpts until midnight – it would take PMQs out of the news cycle and so you wouldn’t waste so much time with people trying to fit in their soundbite for the 6pm news.

    If the timing was really such an issue, it would be quite straightforward to rebroadcast it as live on primetime TV – the reality is that voters just aren’t that interested. It’s not a productive use of their time.

  • anyfool

    PMQ`s is rated as poor because it reflects the standard of the person asking the question, as the principal in this is the opposition leader, it reflects his poor grasp of the reality of the rest of the public.
    His infantile method of asking a question about a specific person suffering supposed hardship because of non existent cuts is futile, no one has any perspective on this person’s lifestyle which is more relevant than some marginal change in benefits.
    This might play with the core Labour vote, but no one else really gives a toss

  • Andy

    PMQs was great when you had Tony Blair being made to look daft week in week out by William Hague. It did him no good in the polls, but Hague was without doubt the finest parliamentary performer of his generation.

  • David L Rattigan

    PMQs is pathetic, a display of loutish, juvenile behaviour of the sort that would have any state school in special measures.

  • Alex

    “To anyone in Westminster, Prime Minister’s Questions is terrific fun…”.
    Yes, but most of us live in the real world, and to many outside the Westminster bubble PMQ’s is a perfect example of why we hold politicians in such contempt. A session of juvenile point scoring using hand-picked misleading statistics, while the other 2 year-olds in the playground roar their approval of every inanity.
    There are occasionally times that I can believe that politicians are intelligent, decent people who are doing their best for the country; and then I listen to PMQs and quickly abandon the naive idea.
    It needs drastic reform. (There again, I suspect that every session turns people off the 3 main parties, so it’s not all bad.)

  • James Strong

    PMQs can be entertaining, if you’re in the right mood for silly point-scoring and infantile shouting. When I’m in that mood I quite enjoy it.
    But as a way of holding the PM to account, or of getting information from him, it is a failure.
    One of the Speccie’s teenagers could do an analysis of how many real questuions are asked or answered. Usually the exchanges between the PM and leader of the opposition are brief speeches of limited relevance to the alleged point at issue and veering towards scorn on either side.
    Add to this the orchestrated barracking from both sets of backbenchers, and the planted questions, and it becomes clear that the purpose of PMQs is not what the politicians would have us believe.
    The House of Commons can get serious, we see that at times when UK forces are deployed, but it makes the decision not to be serious most of the time.
    The MPs view PMQs as a bit of partisan fun, a bit like some of the posters on 6 Nations message threads but with less good humour.
    This shows the lack of respect they have for ordinary voters; MPs on all sides have much more in common with each other than with us, and they are happy to keep it that way.
    Luckily PMQs is irrelevant to everyone except maybe a few thousand inside the bubble and a few who come to blogs like this.
    It can be amusing at times, but as a serious event it usually fails.

  • Terry Field

    Britain is worse governed than almost every ‘advanced’ nation; the value of PM question time is to make this fantastical absurdity funny!

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