PMQs: Punch and Judy or effective scrutiny?

Question times and debates in the House of Commons are famous for being noisy events and Prime Minister’s Questions are particularly bad. It is often described as being a bit like a ‘Punch and Judy’ show and leaders of both political parties have made various promises to try and stop this but things never change.
Politicians have been point scoring, name calling and finger wagging at each other for years. If you look at records of debates in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, politicians were, if anything, much ruder to one another back then.

The layout of the House of Commons chamber, with Government and opposition members sitting facing one another, I think encourages this type of behaviour.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, who is there to keep order during debates, has said that the behaviour of leaders and MPs puts people off politics. I was inclined to agree with him because I don’t think it shows politicians in the best light. Much of the time we are working constructively with our opponents on legislation and select committees, doing important things in a much quieter way

An argumentative democracy is a truly open democracy. Our system means the backbench MPs of all parties are able to directly question the Prime Minister and hold him to account. With all the cameras and microphones in place ready to pick up every muttering, there is no escape for the PM – he has to always be on the ball.

There is no greater test of character for a leader than Prime Minister’s Questions. The pressure they are under at PMQs to deliver means that the thirty minute session can make or break a career.

It is also very entertaining. "PMQs" is by far the most watched political programme of the week and it is famous around the world.

That being said, we want people to engage with our democracy and if people are seriously being put off by the behaviour of MPs during these question times, then we need to look closely at how we behave. But when I ask people – most recently a group from a local high school – what they think, more of them seem to enjoy it than to deplore it.

Prime Minister’s questions are lively because people care passionately about what they are debating. Isn’t that a good thing? I would welcome your views.

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