Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Westminster monkey-house

The Speaker of the House Of Commons, John Bercow, has consistently railed against the playground atmosphere of the Chamber during Prime Minister's Questions. Now he has raised the stakes by writing to the three main party leaders and giving an interview to the Independent which also led to an editorial in the paper on Tuesday. Today, the backlash that Bercow must have expected (Guido Fawkes and Private Eye have long reported Tory MPs who regard Bercow as a traitor) has arrived.

He should be given the backing to go further than issue florid warnings to persistent hecklers. Naming and following up with removal should prove salutary. He should interrupt as soon as questions (the opposition front bench are the worst offenders, but there are sadly some back-benchers who see little difference between a question and a speech) and answers stray from the subject.

It would help if PMQs reverted to the purely business-like provision of information as was intended by Harold Macmillan when he introduced the regular spot. It was, I recall, Margaret Thatcher and her PR adviser Tim Bell who turned it into a political slanging match because they saw the possibilities in publicly cowing successive Labour leaders week after week. The disease has spread to some other ministers' sessions,

Realistically, one must assume that nothing substantial will happen under the current leaders. Perhaps there will be a token calm for a week or so (as happened when Ed Miliband first took over the Labour leadership), but then hostilities will resume.

So the business managers should at least move away from the Wednesday 11 a.m. slot before PMQs those sessions where serious Q & A still takes place. I am thinking in particular of International Development Questions, the last ten minutes of which are ruined for the viewer at home by the loud chatter of those gearing up for the Cameron-Miliband gladiatorial contest. (No action need be taken over NI/Scotland/Wales questions which are a repetitive farce.)

1 comment:

Frank H Little said...

John Redwood reminds us how Blair and Campbell further debased PMQs.