The trouble with PMQ’s
14 January, 2009
One of the benefits of impending old age is that I can remember the change in 1997 from PMQ’s being two 15 minutes sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays to one 30 minute session on a Wednesday. This was done to reduce the accountability of government to parliament or to make parliamentary scrutiny more considered and less of a bearpit depending on which party you belong to.
Today I don’t think much has changed. Government is no less accountable to parliament because they are experts in circumventing scrutiny anyway, all with the willing connivance of MP’s who seem more than willing to exercise the full cashiering of their pay checks yet they are reticent to exercise the powers that belong to a sovereign parliament in checking the power of government. The media and narrative of whether Brown or Cameron won misses the wider points that PMQ’s does nothing to raise public confidence in parliament or provide for effective scrutiny of government.
The best questions at PMQ’s are the one’s about MP’s constituents or constituencies or campaigns on serious issues. That’s what PMQ’s should be about rather than the PM verses leader of the opposition filling the media narrative of who won the panto duel. The planted questions, and lets face it both sides do it, are frankly an embarrassment that insults the intelligence of the public. The impression that politicians are asking questions not out of interest whether personal or constituency but for purely partisan reasons are one of the many reasons that politicians are held in contempt by the public.
That other innovation in prime ministerial parliamentary scrutiny of the Blair years the appearance before the Chairman’s Panel made up of the Chair’s of select committee’s I think works rather better. For one thing there is greater chance to press the prime minister on a single line of questioning. Then there is the fact that it’s not in the chamber so you don’t have several hundred MP’s in the place to fill up the seats for TV with no actual job to do other than make embarrassing noises. Perhaps PMQ’s could be moved to a select committee environment with membership and the right to ask questions decided by lot except for the reserved rights of the opposition party leaders.
Can Parliament find any less effective ways of holding the government to account than PMQ’s.