Wednesday, April 29, 2009


When you’re part of the Westminster bubble, PMQs tend to be the highlight of your week. It’s essential viewing and I used to get cross if someone dared ring me between 12 and 12:30 on a Wednesday. ‘PMQs is on. I’ll ring you back’, I’d snap before putting the phone down. Well, unless they were somebody really important (who should really have known better). That did happen once and I was glad I’d asked who was speaking before launching into a Peter Capaldi esque rant or I would have been left feeling very embarrassed.

Now that I’m out working in the real world and don’t have a television or a radio in my office, nor speakers on my computer, I find it very strange that the world no longer comes to a standstill during that precious half hour. Indeed, I even forgot until about 2pm today that it was PMQs and then had a quick glance on the BBC website to see what had gone on (not much from the sounds of it). I’ve come to realise how irrelevant that half hour is to the majority of people who work outside of politics. To be honest, I think it’s a turn off for many – grown men shouting and insulting one another, point scoring, jeering… It’s so childish and petty, and borders on the farcical at times. How is that engaging with the public, or holding the PM truly accountable?

Whilst it is important for debate to take place, and its only right that MPs should be able to challenge and question the Prime Minister, I wonder if there is a better way to do this by now? And surely, with communications being so different these days, can’t we get members of the public to submit some questions to the PM which could be selected at random for him to answer? It would be a far more democratic way of operating, and could put a welcome stop to the ones that Labour so obviously plant so the PM can breathe easy for a while. Politicians would therefore have to tackle the real issues that worry the electorate, rather than deciding on behalf of the electorate what they should be worried about. Plus, people would feel a sense of engagement and involvement in parliamentary affairs. It’s certainly something that could be considered.

After all, new media developments offer a wealth of different opportunities in terms of democracy and communications, and its time for politics to adapt to accommodate such changes. And no, Gordon Brown’s youtube moment isn’t a great example of this but I do appreciate what he was trying to do. Why shouldn’t we be encouraging the involvement of non-politicians in parliament if we are serious about transparency and accountability? Most people have internet access these days, and I think we’re genuinely missing out on some golden opportunities to involve them in the running of our democratic institutions such as parliament and the Welsh assembly. Modifying PMQs or First Ministers Questions by allowing the electorate to submit questions or ideas for debate is do-able by now.

What's clear is that our political system needs to be revised to reflect the modern world. I'm not saying that we should do away with all of our traditions, but they could do with some up-dating. After all, unless something is done politics is just going to become less and less relevant to the lives of the majority of people. That might suit some people who like the idea of dictator states, but for those of us who genuinely believe in democracy then it is our duty to think of ways to increase engagement and involvement in politics. Not an easy task, but it is necessary in my opinion.


Anonymous said...

How PMQs is conducted has its pros as well as its cons. Most Germans involved in politics that I know would really like the rough and tumble of the PMQs to take place in the Bundestag, and despair at the monotonous bureaucrat-speak that is the standard there.

Having watched some of the mild mannered yet painfully dull exchanges that take place in the Bundestag myself I can only agree with them.

Daran said...

Any change would be slow and incremental, if it ever comes. But the very fact that you say it's so compulsive within political bubbles means it is hitting the mark where it probably aims to.

One thing I definitely wouldn't change is the length. Half an hour is plenty. FMQs in the Senedd last far too long.

Every new party leader says they want to modernise or alter PMQs. Ultimately little every alters.