Jon Bercow announces the start of the process. After the usual formalities of the first question (in actuality just the phrase ‘Question number one’) and the Prime Minister announcing his duties for today, Prime Ministers Questions begin. A female MP from Brighton, Caroline Lucas, thanks everyone who has helped those affected by the recent floods.
There are nods and sounds of agreement from the House. She then asks if the Prime Minister, who had committed himself to helping those affected by the floods in any way he can the day before, will be reversing any cuts to the Environmental Agency in order to build a better flood prevention system. At this point, at the chamber erupts with sounds of disagreement from the other side of the House, almost drowning out the MPs question. Bercow calls for order, but as the Prime Minister stands up, there are more noises of discontent, almost causing David Cameron to sit down until the noise has passed. Only a minute into the proceedings, and it is already hard to control the House. This was the scene at the most recent Prime Ministers Questions.
In recent years, Prime Ministers Questions had gained a reputation for being loud, rowdy and immature, with both sides of the House shouting at the other, reaching stupidly high decibel levels. Ed Miliband and David Cameron, like a pair of squabbling children, throw pretty insults at each other, the wit of which can be described simply as ‘No, you’. The aim of the event is for the Prime Minister to answer to scrutiny from the opposition, but it quickly devolves into Cameron using whatever point that Mr Miliband has made and turning it into an insult aimed at the opposition, accusing the last Labour government to be the reason for the problem, or for not doing as much as the Coalition, all while conveniently avoiding the question. David Cameron himself admitted that trying to calm the MPs was a ‘vain hope’, in stark contrast to his original promise to bring an end to the ‘Punch and Judy’ politics of PMQs.
Why are the PMQs, which were once an established avenue of scrutiny, now little better than a session of public school bantering for adults? One reason, I feel, is the increased reliance on media in modern politics. As the influence of the internet has grown, and politicians have become increasingly aware of how this and TV can make them look, they have started to use the PMQs as an excuse to try out ‘sound bites’, a phrase that can then be repeated in the next edition of the Sun, or quoted on the BBC politics page. They are more concerned with whether their remark will help them in the polls. Some members of parliament are unashamed of the jeering and booing and their opinions have ranged from expecting the reactions to attempting to use the sessions as TV entertainment, requesting that it be moved to later in the day, in order to catch a larger audience. Thankfully, this particular motion has been opposed, but it shows how some people view politics. In reference to my first article on this site, perhaps the reason less people are voting is because they view Parliament as being filled with bickering idiots?
Despite this largely negative public image, the PMQs do still fulfil their original function, from time to time. Once in a while, a MP on the opposition will ask a question about the latest bill the Government wants to pass, or their latest plans, and the Prime Minister will stand up and give them an honest answer, an overview of what the Government hopes to do with this new law. But once in a while isn’t enough. More efforts need to be made to clean up the content within the sessions, and the politicians themselves need to show more restraint. While I have found the verbal sparring amusing, I’ll admit, it has grown to the point where it has become a clear disregard for any parliamentary convention, as they ignore both the person speaking and the Speaker of the House, in order to shout at them like some mob. Honestly, I feel like both the Government and the Opposition are shooting themselves in the foot by making a conscious decision not to move away from the bickering of past Parliaments, at a time when it is the least appropriate.