It's debatable: the effectiveness of PMQs in scrutinising the Prime Minister

Recent rambuctious PMQs raises the question as to whether PMQs are truly effective or do we need a new way to hold the Prime Minister to account?

Amana Khan
23rd February 2022
A packed House of Commons during a session of PMQs. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Boris Johnson has been subject to multiple accusations throughout December 2021 and January 2022 of breaking Covid-19 restrictions by attending parties. Plural. As a direct result, MPs have called for his resignation from both sides of the House and the Right Honourable MP for Bury South Christian Wakeford even defected to Labour. This drama has unfolded itself and taken centre stage at the past few Prime Minister Question's (PMQs), with the opposition criticising and quizzing the Prime Minster about this scandal. This has proven to increase tensions between politicians, and this has presented itself within PMQs. 

The 19th of January saw the defection of Conservative MP Wakeford to Labour during PMQs, but the drama did not stop there. As his role requires him to maintain order, the Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle had to intervene 17 times in that particular PMQs session. The Speaker's reason for halting proceedings that many times was to address the rowdy nature of the MPs present from both sides of the House, who booed and cheered at Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer's criticisms of Johnson.

Lindsay's interventions did not prevent the same style of politics to occur the following week PMQs on the 26th of January, however. The Speaker was forced to consistently interrupt speeches and questions made by Starmer due to the heckling Starmer received from backbenchers when questioning the Prime Minister’s involvement in the lockdown parties. Despite the Speaker intervening and demanding Starmer’s questions to be heard out of respect for constituents, the jibes towards the Labour leader did not settle and this meant that more interventions had to come about in this particular session. 

This has ushered in questions about the effectiveness of PMQs as the past two have shown to be drama-fuelled. Neither side listens to what each other has to say and the responses from both sides of the House have been rather performative. This is not what PMQs is intended for. PMQs are meant to hold the government to account and question their actions. Our current iteration of PMQs has more dramatics and interruptions than genuine scrutiny of the executive, unfortunately.

Though PMQs is effective in bringing public attention to key political issues and the acts of politicians through its media coverage, in recent weeks it has not been fulfilling its criteria of being a place for democratic political debates. Considering the recent PMQs, the question arises on whether Parliament should use a new system of questioning the government. I would argue that the need for ensuring accountability and legitimacy is crucial in a democratic system, but PMQs has encouraged a place of performative politics and child-like behaviour, especially in recent weeks. Thus, a new system needs to be put in place to negate this and guarantee that any government can be appropriately challenged for their failures. Implementing a new system with genuine scrutiny of the executive could also help constituents gain a better understanding of the actions of the government, which would be a massive boon in an era of increasing political apathy. Would such a system ever be introduced? It's up for debate.

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