Do PMQs really turn the voters off?
According to a report in the Independent yesterday Gordon Brown is telling friends that the public is being increasingly repelled by PMQs and that the Commons exchanges are now of little use in discussing the issues of the day. He’s reported as saying that “nothing prepares you” for the ferocity of a packed chamber in full cry” and that the weekly event is worse than it has ever been
I’m not so sure. The above short video shows a couple of exchanges between Tony Blair and John Major in the period before the 1997 election when, of course, Blair was asking the questions. The “Weak..Weak..Weak” refrain has become famous and shows Blair at his most aggressive. I do not think that Cameron has yet matched this in his exchanges with Gordon.
In those days, of course, the Prime Minister had to face the house twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One of the things that Blair in 1997 was to reduce this to once although the time allocated was doubled.
Before Gordon came in I thought that he would change the format to something that would more suit his style. He certainly could have done this during his first few weeks when everything was going for him. Now I think that introducing changes would be very difficult.
The main weapon a Prime Minister has is that he always has the last word during the clashes with the opposition leader. Tony Blair used this to great effect and would save his most stinging comments for the final answer knowing there could be no response. Now Brown is suggesting to aides that Tory MPs are trying to blunt the edge of his final reply by trying to howl him down.
Does it all matter? I think it does. The government of the day has such a control over the news agenda that often the only chance an opposition has to get attention is at PMQs. The Tory and Lib Dem leaders have to use the questions they are allocated to best effect.
It starts again at noon today and is carried live on Sky News, BBC News 24, Radio Five Live and BBC Parliament. Let’s see what happens.