Letter from the Political Correspondent: Party point-scoring at PMQs is turning public off politics


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The Independent Online

Since it was the last Prime Minister’s Questions of this parliament, it was appropriate that it was such a newsmaker. David Cameron’s announcement from the dispatch box that he was ruling out any increase in VAT was probably the biggest PMQs bombshell since 1998, when the Tory Opposition Leader William Hague stunned MPs by revealing – and then rejecting — the deal he had only just heard had been cooked up between his Lords Leader Lord Cranborne and Tony Blair on reform of the Upper House. Which is itself a reminder how little of real substance usually emerges from the weekly joust.

Will we miss it during the crucial weeks running up to 7 May? Almost certainly not. Polls suggest that the trading of statistics calculated in bafflingly different ways and the party political point-scoring are a turn-off. There is much about Parliament which does, however falteringly, hold the executive to account: PMQs — or at least the clashes between the two main party leaders – rarely does. 

As we revealed in February last year the Speaker John Bercow has made efforts to get all-party agreement to make it more grown-up, but they haven’t got far. Tony Blair’s change from twice-weekly sessions of 15 minutes to a half hour every Wednesday – designed to help the PM — has sucked out some of the old news-driven urgency. MPs know PMQs is seen as silly by many of their constituents. They need to take the power into their own hands, and make it less of a weekly gladiatorial contest between the party leaders. At present it’s not helping the public image of politics. And that’s bad for democracy.