I tried to write a review of “PMQs” today. I really did. Except if we’re completely honest William Hague vs Harriet Harman is not – and in all likelihood never will be – PMQs.
Sure we all pretend that it is. The chamber is still full(ish), the BBC and Sky both provide coverage and analysis and the planted questions still come thick and fast.
But what’s the point?
It achieves nothing of note, is completely unmemorable, and without the principal actors playing the parts it’s not even worthwhile as a point scoring exercise.
“Understudy” PMQs should be scrapped – are here’s why:
Scrutiny – PMQs is supposed to be about the opposition challenging the government on its agenda, but no-one is really pretending that William Hague is in charge while Cameron is away. And despite the fears of Tory backbenchers, no-one pretends that Clegg is left in charge of the nuclear codes when he’s deputising either. The whole session involves the person covering for the PM trying not to contradict their boss. Scrutiny? Nothing of the sort is possible in the circumstances.
Speaking outside their brief – unless you’re the Prime Minister, your brief is necessarily narrow. There’s something farcical about the foreign secretary sparring with the shadow culture media and sport spokesperson on the NHS. That leads to direct questions with patchy answers – even more patchy than the usual PMQs offerings.
DPMQs – now that Deputy PM’s Questions is a significant part of the parliamentary calendar (even if it largely consists of Labour and Tory MPs trying to embarrass Nick Clegg), is there really any point in occasionally duplicating it in front org a larger – but largely disinterested – audience?
The PM is already quite keen to duck out on PMQs as Michael Dugher has noted. So why not go the whole hog and scrap these sham pseudo PMQs altogether? Instead there should be a minimum number of PMQs a session that the PM must attend.
Now that’s more like scrutiny. All we need now is for MPs to start asking proper questions. But that, dear reader, is a rant for another day…