Nothing makes the House of Commons more interesting than the mastery of political debate manifested so finely in Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). Without it, parliamentary politics would increasingly lose its appeal and uniqueness.
In the era of soundbites and spin, PMQs allows our leaders to challenge each other face-to-face, unaided and under the watchful eye of the public and media. It’s exciting and offers us all something a little less sterile and predictable.
PMQs serves a number of important functions. Not least, does it provide the leader of the opposition the chance to confront the ruling Prime Minister with a question he or she may otherwise have avoided answering elsewhere. It also gives the public a chance to view the case of the opposition and the credibility of its leader who could very well occupy 10 Downing Street in the future. On top of this, PMQs gives back bench MPs on both sides of the House the chance to put their own questions to the Prime Minister directly.
Sadly, this weekly masterpiece appears to be under threat.
In a tacit reference to changing PMQs, Corbyn proclaimed that whilst he would attend PMQs for the time being, he wants to see “less theatre and more facts”.
No further explanation has been offered as to why he finds PMQs so off putting. Perhaps 30 years of sitting in the back seat has made him a little bored of it. Maybe he is uncomfortable at the prospect of having to face off Cameron every week.
Who knows? The point is, PMQs has become a rite of passage for future leaders. The ability of an opposition leader to perform well, comes with it the acceptance of the public that they may be well suited for the role of Prime Minister- a job which requires one to think quickly, on their feet, under pressure.
It would be easy to accuse Corbyn of cosying up to his anti-establishment cronies, who have for many years pushed the platitudinous case for ‘reform’. However, it is the very theatre like performance at PMQs that so desperately needs defending.
PMQs is admired the world over and for those of you who have seen it in person, I’m certain you would have had a memorable experience.
Yes MPs should respect the rules of turn taking and be courteous to one another, but the well intentioned cheering and occasional jeering demonstrate passion, comradery and a flare of political conviction often lamented as lacking in modern day politics. The speaker of the House quite rightly has the ability to scrutinise conduct throughout all parliamentary sessions and if necessary, discipline a Member who behaves out of line.
The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix I”’ springs to mind here. PMQs has in itself become a British institution and it deserves to be cherished. Changing it or preventing it from taking place in the manner to which it has lasted for so many years, would be a sad day for this country.