Saturday, 17 July 2010

Changes coming to PMQs

Prime Minister's Questions is the centre of the political week in the United Kingdom. There is something very British about forcing the country's most powerful person into a bear pit once a week to face heckles and questions from fellow MPs. In many ways it embodies the makeup of a parliamentary democracy, where the executive is directly accountable to the legislature.

In the United States live coverage of PMQs is shown on the political TV channel C-SPAN where it gets very respectable viewing figures. It is so admired in the US that when he was running for president in 2008, John McCain promised to have an American version if he were elected.

And yet last week John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, voices his dismay at the culture of PMQs, describing it as 'scrutiny by screech'. Mr. Speaker proposed several changes in an attempt to try to lessen the boisterous and unruly nature of PMQs.

The Problem is though, the atmosphere of the chamber during PMQs is as a result of the culture of the Commons, and as most politicians eventually find out, culture is the hardest thing to change. Even John Bercow admitted that "no committee can legislate for [culture]". Recordings of PMQs from Harold Wilson's time as Prime Minister show that the rowdy culture hasn't changed much in decades.

So perhaps the culture of PMQs can't be changed, but the people can and will. Last Wednesday's session was the last with David Cameron facing Harriet Harman. It's quite sad actually as Harriet Harman, as I mentioned in a previous blog, has been doing a rather good job of flustering Mr. Cameron.

Next week the Prime Minister will be at the White House with President Obama, so Nick Clegg will answer for the government's actions (which will be interesting to see). Parliament then goes into recess and when MPs return to Westminster there will be a new Labour leader!

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