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How Effective is Prime Minister’s Question Time?

The Houses of Parliament at night
The Houses of Parliament at night • Photograph: Victoria Kettlewell

It is a way of ascertaining the direction of the Government and the performance of the MPs we elect, but Prime Minister’s Question Time is beginning to appear more and more like a Punch and Judy show, with more drama yet less variation within it than Eastenders.

The weekly half-hour session is repetitive and nothing more than a trashing session. However, week after week, we continue to rely on it as a tool for scrutinising our representatives.

It is all too common that we see Miliband and Cameron calling each other less than imaginative names across the House of Commons – we probably mutter something more imaginative under our breaths at the mere mention of their names – whilst attacking each other’s policies. I’ve seen some supposed behavioural problems in classrooms before and nothing compares to the continual rowdy nature of the House. It’s too regular an occurrence that the Speaker has to step in and embarrass a member and quieten the House down before they are kept behind the bell.

However, aside from the poor use of nicknaming and insults, the House is beginning to get a bit repetitive. Labour attack the Tories for being “out of touch”, “on the side of the rich” and having terrible economic policies, whilst the Tories attack Labour for being “out of touch”, “on the side of the lazy” and wanting to increase the deficit, and this happens time and time again. The same phrases get churned out, the same business gets discussed – it’s no Royal Variety Show in there. Somehow, however, they manage to suppose a different slant on the discussion; Labour begin their questions about the NHS, the Leveson Inquiry or welfare reforms, but it always returns to an angry offensive against the economic policies of the Tory party; that’s Capitalism for you.

Continually slating each other’s policies only amounts to engineered campaigning for the next General Election; is it a debate on an issue that effects the population, or on which party has the better policy? The latter seems a bit more believable.

Furthermore, it’s a rare occurrence that you see somebody stand up and honestly say “my constituents” when referring to a particular opinion they are presenting to the house. Despite being elected representatives of sixty million people, Prime Minister’s Question Time only serves to demonstrate how little they represent their people. Occasionally, you do see the odd MP stand up against their party-line, but even within the coalition (with their opposing ideological perspectives), it is too risky a move to make if they are scared of losing their party membership. Yet, according to Total Politics, of sixty million people, only around three-hundred and fifty thousand members of the public actually tune into the show. With the exception of those who catch the show on catch-up or via snippets on the news, less than five percent of the population choose the question time as a source of keeping account of their representatives. As an indication, we can only assume that less know of the ability to watch other debates live on BBC Parliament, or even visit Parliament and watch the debates in the houses themselves.

Prime Minister’s Question Time serves only as a new source of humour, an indication of the worthlessness of our representatives in a representative democracy and a sense of the democratic deficit that the UK population has. Perhaps in the future, the show will become more worthwhile but, in its current set-up, it is merely a tool of amusement, pretend accountability and continuous party-campaigning.

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