The most public display of the UK’s political system is PMQ’s (Prime Ministers Questions), and is often the part that makes the news. It is often the only part of “government in action” that the electorate see. With this premise set against the backdrop of an ever decreasing voter turnout why do these people insist in grandstanding?
They have traditions which they love partaking in, but blame everyone else for the negative effect of it. Try watching PMQ’s and see for yourself; it’s 30 minutes of (in theory) MP’s asking the PM of the day questions of his or her government, and the PM of the day answering them. This is NOT supposed to be a party political slagging match, there’s plenty other occasions for that.
Inside each of these 30 minute nuggets of political updates, around 15 minutes is wasted by the jeering or cheering by the “honorable members” at others, either to shout down or interrupt an opponent from making a point or to show loyalty to your own leader with the view to a career advance. So that leaves 15 minutes for questions and answers important to the week’s events. You would think so wouldn’t you?
The questions asked are submitted in advance and are screened so there are no “surprise” questions; after all, image is everything and PMQ’s is live on TV, as well as being prime fodder for TV news shows. How this valuable time slot is filled shows more of the heart of an individual party than any photo opportunity. Most of the questions asked are of the “get the PM to admit something he / she’s (so far) avoided and is uncomfortable on, get it on the record.”
Add to this farce is the fact that the PM of the day NEVER answers a question. I know what you’re thinking here “I thought this was Prime Ministers Questions”. It IS, but like Superman only needs a pair of glasses to change ID, PMQ’s only needs a typo. It’s NOT “Prime Ministers Questions” as in “questions TO the PM” it’s “Prime Minister’s Questions” as in “questions BY the PM“.
It allows an intelligent politician to answer a question they were never asked, use a feeder question from a party colleague who wants promotion to grandstand on your parties policies and record. In each answer by the PM is a number of components, in varying order:
Never answer the question you were asked.
Appear to answer the question you were asked.
Answer an imaginary question you had in mind which vaguely seems on a similar vein.
Quote your own “figures” as the “truth” while denouncing ALL others which are critical of your policies.
Use vague sound bites which seem to mean many things to paint an inaccurately positive view of your party and government.
Use vague sound bites which seem to mean many things to paint an inaccurately negative view of your opposition.
Always use party history to suggest a decision taken (insert number here) of years in the past by the opposition is how they are now, to deflect legitimate criticism.
Pay tribute to the workers on the front line affected by the policy being questioned i.e. the nurses or teachers.
Claim that the oppositions record and intent are hindering your governments improvements. Blame them for not supporting the policies you are trying to get through.
Defend the bubble your own advisers inform you is “reality” regardless of the 1,000’s of others trying to show you the “reality” the country see’s.
There are exceptions to this state of affairs; they are rare but predictable. When something negative like an air crash, terrorist attack or natural disaster happens and loss of life is the result our MP’s suddenly come over all respectful of each other. They let each other speak without jeering. Why is this?
It’s simple really; the response are likely to get them on the news, and to be seen to be acting like children on these issues will nail their coffins with the voting public, so they have a charade to keep up. MP’s instinctively know when these “calm points” are. Usually there’s a statement by each of the party leaders to an event like this at the start of PMQ’s that week beginning with the PM. Why do they bother wasting time? Surely they ALL want to say the same thing, so why not just have the speaker read out a statement ALL the leaders have signed. PMQ’s is limited to 30 minutes of Parliamentary time after all.
Most people only see clips of their political leaders and lawmakers in the news, which consists of a combination of interviews at photo opportunities and Q&A sessions from the House of Commons / Lords. The photo opportunity is subliminally seen as party political electioneering, while the House of Commons / Lords is seen as “government”.
With “government” (including both the governing party and the opposition parties) acting like hyper intelligent children who were in the bar the day respect was taught, can they really expect the voter to pick a favorite? Those who do still vote (I include myself in this) and who do not vote blindly for the same party regardless of the current views of that party are basically electing the best of a bad lot. Who will do the least harm, rather than who will do the most good. Until the voters start to see some respect in politicians they will give politicians no respect. Contempt and indifference is contagious.
Take a look at the questions asked by MP’s and how they are reacted to by their peers. The Liberal Democrat leader of the day (Charles Kennedy) was jeered and shouted down when trying to raise valid (and now vindicated) questions on Iraq BEFORE the invasion started. Or a previous Conservative leader (Ian Duncan Smith) tried a question which was more like a novel, with (it sounded like) 100 different points to it; the result is that the PM could pick a couple of points and pretend to answer them. The government MP’s are just as bad with personal career politicians using the PMQ’s stage to gain a leg up by giving the PM an easy to field hit at the opposition. This is SUPPOSED to be a party neutral occasion where GOVERNMENT issues are addressed.
Imagine how much more they could achieve if they cut out all the jeering and cheering? I’d love a statistician to work through and count up how many minutes are taken up with this in a parliamentary year. Let’s see the ratio of “business” to “pleasure” (“business” includes the fluff above as it’d be REALLY bad for politicians to split that up and show that maybe 0.01% of the parliamentary year is of any substance). Since the meat of government is in the committee rooms why bother with the sham that is the House of Commons?