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Published on February 24th, 2014 | by Samuel English-Kershaw
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When it comes to PMQ’s, we should be careful what we wish for

In recent weeks there has been a lot of debate around Prime Minister’s Questions, I have been saddened though not shocked to witness so many MP’s and political commentators come out and argue for a toned down Prime Minister’s Questions. To back this sort of ‘PMQ’sLite’ style debate, is in my view an error of judgement, sure, perhaps we need to witness a reform of PMQ’s but I do hope we don’t see it toned down anytime soon.

For hundreds of years the success of our uniquely adversarial political system has been measured by Prime Minister’s Questions. Some of the greatest political battles have taken place during sessions of Prime Minister’s Questions and I am sure some of the greatest political statements, as well as jibes and jokes, are yet to come, if only we maintain the ferocity and vivacity of Prime Minister’s Questions. In coming clean and admitting that it was the combative nature of Prime Minister’s Questions that first drew me to politics I’m also admitting that statistically speaking, I’m in a minority. Though as arguably the master of Prime Minister’s Questions Disraeli noted “there are three kinds of lies; lies damned lies and statistics” so I’ll persevere with my argument any way. According to the Hansard Society’s latest poll 67% of people surveyed felt that Prime Minister’s Questions is too focused upon “political point scoring” – that I can agree with, but it’s worth noting that less than 47% of respondents said the event was “too noisy” and only 33% of respondents said the weekly event “put them off politics”.

Now, you are correct in thinking ‘what’s this guy on about? With his less than 47% and only 33%. That’s a huge proportion’ but I think you should ask yourself the following question, ‘a huge proportion of what?’ Well, the answer is a huge proportion of people aged over 65, I don’t want to come across as ageist here but I feel that young people are far more likely to engage with a thrilling and fiery debate than the average viewer of Prime Minister’s Questions, who currently clocks in at aged 65 or over. I only discovered Prime Minister’s Questions whilst having a bowl of soup six years ago, why? Well because I was on study leave for my GCSE’s; at 12:30 on any normal weekday I would have been at school. I actually agree with one of the Hansard Societies recommendations, which is to move the debate to an evening slot, thus enabling a wider audience to view the programme. This may only help alter what I deem to be a dubious set of statistics but I do believe it would also do a lot to the quality of debate.

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I have also come to the conclusion that one of the main reasons Prime Minister’s Questions is rated as ‘poor’ by the viewing public is because it reflects the standard of question asked by those in the chamber. In a nation of over 60 Million we have only 650 MP’s; is it too much to ask that they should be the best of the best, ideally, picked from all sections of society to ask the questions that affect their constituents the most? Instead, week after week the debate has descended into to a series of attempts by a number of MP’s to ensure their soundbite makes it onto the 6pm news. This does nothing to help develop and move our democracy along as the questions asked of Prime Ministers in the past did. Now, this may say a lot about the way British politics has changed, but we as young people can shift the balance once again, by ensuring we cast a vote at the next election for a candidate in our local areas who is the sort to ask a penetrating, insightful or hell-raising question at Prime Minister’s Questions, rather than one which will contribute to the “point scoring” frenzy some feel they watch at present.

The idea that Prime Ministers Question’s puts people off politics is gaining traction, it should be our mission to stop this pervasive idea. Buzzfeed have been remarkably successful in reporting on Prime Minister’s Questions imaginatively through their use of GIF’s, the huge number of hits they receive is proof enough for me that the public does have an appetite for Prime Ministers Question’s, just not quite in its current manifestation. I personally support the calls to scrap the rules which ban the use of footage in “comedic and satirical” contexts. Get rid of this outdated clause and perhaps we could finally have a truly fit for purpose political show in Britain, though preferably not chaired by charming but irritatingly ever present Andrew Neil. I am willing to accept that a reformed Prime Ministers Questions would bring in more viewers and contribute to a more engaged, politically astute public. Reform however need not turn Prime Minister’s Questions into a select committee style ‘snore-fest’, that would only drive us further away from the beating heart of our democracy.

 

Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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About the Author

Samuel is current editor of the NUS Conference Newspaper 'The Delegate' and was formerly news editor of 'The Lion' voted one of London's best student newspapers. Samuel is currently Vice President of Heythrop College, University of London Students' Union, he lives in London and doesn't have a dog. You can find him on twitter @englishkershaw



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