Roughly defined, this is a single half hour on Wednesdays at 12pm where Members of Parliament get the chance to question the Prime Sinister about anything they choose to. The political classes trumpet this piece of political theatre as proof positive of the virtuosity of the UK political system. You can hear them asking questions like “Where else would a leader subject themselves to this ‘ordeal?’” and “isn’t our PM fabulous for doing it?”
It is often suggested that this is the only country in the world where a leader has to deal with such a thing. That is only one of the things that are misleading about the way this event is presented to us.
I want to make this clear…it is not an ordeal and it doesn’t mean anything.
For the Prime Sinister really to be given a hard time at PMQs, a few things would have to change.
Firstly, they would have to stop planting questions with ambitious MPs. This trick is often used. Prime Sinisters like it because it eats up time and they can use the question to make a prepared statement at a moment when a lot of the country’s political classes are looking on. Some of the questions are so fawning as to make one sick. Take this example….
Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage) (Labour): Will my right honourable friend accept an invitation to visit the Rutherford Appleton laboratory in my constituency to see the new Diamond synchrotron, which is nearing completion there? It is the biggest single investment in the history of British science, made by this Government, and it is a very apt symbol of the commitment that this Government-and the Chancellor and the Prime Minister-have made to the future of British science.
What an ordeal eh? Imagine having to answer a question like that, the poor poor Prime Minister. Quite a bit of the half hour is taken up with this sort of nonsense. MPs like it because it gives them a chance to cosy up to the cabinet in the hope of getting a cabinet post in the future.
It all runs according to a formula. Questions are sent in two weeks in advance. This means that the PM will have all the answers worked out by some of the staff. All the PM has to do is read the answer. The PM will also sit with some of the staff and work out which unsubmitted questions might come up. MP’s are not strictly supposed to do this but they occasionally do. The PM does not have to answer these questions if s/he doesn’t want to. If the PM does not answer the question then the worst that will happen is that the PM will look bad in front of the public for about a minute and may get a bit of hostile coverage.
The leader of the main opposition party is allowed to speak or respond 6 times, the leader of the third largest party is allowed to speak twice. This means that whatever the opposition leaders (or anyone else) say to the PM, the PM will ALWAYS have the final word. If the PM is a reasonable debater then it is highly unlikely they will ever lose the debate.
The final, and most important thing that would have to change is that MPs would have to not be the spineless little corporate turds that, for the most part, they are.
Prime Sinister's Questions is just a piece of political theatre that helps to maintain the illusion that we are being given any choice other than rampant and rapacious capitalism. I am utterly fed up of people crooning about this event as if it meant something other than a few politicians stroking their ego’s.