How Brown could revolutionaise PMQs, improve Labour's standing, polish the image of politics and make the Tories look like silly – all in one go

Another Wednesday, another PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) in Parliament. What to make of today’s Punch and Judy show between Cameron and Brown?

First – I guess, as Nick Robinson points out, that Cameron has forgotten his professed distaste for Punch and Judy, you say one insult, I’ll say two back more loudly style of politics. Perhaps he genuinely meant it when he said it, but if so he’s long since changed his mind.

Second -Gordon Brown really ain’t that sharp or fast when it comes to PMQs. He was always going to have a tough act to follow after Blair who, love or loathe what he said, was a master of the art of question time.

Fraser Nelson rather wickedly desecribes Ed Milliband’s apparent new role in the whole farago:

Ed Miliband seems to have a new job. He now sits next to Brown making theatrical grimaces and facial expressions of mock astonishment when Tories speak. Quite fun to watch. Oxford, LSE, Harvard – and he ends up as the highest-paid mime artist in Britain.

I see Mike Smithson (Political Betting) is speculating whether Brown might even be driven to trying to abolish PMQs. Well – if Brown is minded to, he could revolutionaise PMQs, improve Labour’s standing, polish the image of politics and make the Tories look like silly – all in one go.

The answer? Turn down the volume and turn up the behaviour on the Labour side of the chamber. Imagine what would happen if all the Labour MPs started behaving like sensible adults – none of the screaming and pointing and exagerated facial expressions, none of the passing impressions of the rowdy pub bore who insists everyone in the pub MUST hear what they’ve got to say – and instead – behave like you or I would expect and be expected to behave in any other place of work.

In a blink, he would look statesmanlike, the Tories (if they don’t follow suit) would look almightily daft in a one-sided shouting match, and who knows – PMQs might even end up fullfilling a purpose other than making politics look crap once a week.

But will Gordon do it? On past form, I’m not sure he’s got the bottle to take a decisive act. Here’s hoping though….

Gordon Brown agrees with me – but will he do anything about it?

Gordon Brown has admitted that he thinks his weekly question and answer joust in Parliament isn’t really achieving much. Good I say – that’s my view too: we very rarely have exchanges that really hold the PM to account, and the whole “whose MPs can shout the loudest?” display of rowdy behaviour does damage to the reputation of Parliament and politics.

So kudos to Gordon for this in The Independent today:

Gordon Brown has expressed his growing disillusionment at what he considers the poor quality of the weekly battle of wills across the despatch box.

Mr Brown fears the 30-minute sessions have become so noisy and bad-tempered that the public will be increasingly repelled.

But the report then goes on:

He has made it clear he has no plans to change the event.

Well – why not? He’s Prime Minister, he’s there at PMQs taking centre stage role nearly every time and if nothing else – he could have a quiet word with the Labour Chief Whip about the behaviour of Labour MPs.

So come on Gordon – let’s have some action to back up your words!

Clegg's first Prime Minister's Questions

Well – Nick did well! As readers will know, I think too much attention is given to PMQs, but given that it is – certainly better to do well than not, and Nick did well.

He played it straight with a question about the sort of real issue that hits so many people – home fuel costs – rather than going for a Westminster hothouse story. Keeping your home warm, and being able to afford it, is a big issue for many of my constituents – so good on Nick for picking that topic.

He moved a few places in from where Lib Dem leaders usually sit / stand. I’ve not seen how this came over on the TV, but it seemed to work well in Parliament – as he was surrounded by Lib Dem MPs, rather than having opposition MPs heckling straight into his right ear.

Where have Labour supporters gone online?

Interesting (and good!) to see that my piece about Prime Minister’s Questions over on Liberal Democrat Voice has generated quite a lot of comments – and, despite my general scepticism about the quality of comments on many political blogs, a good quality debate too.

Several Tories – hello Justin! hello Roger! – have joined in too, but no-one it seems from Labour. Curious that. I could understand only getting comments from Lib Dems on a Lib Dem site, but getting comments from Lib Dems, Tories and those of no apparent political party – but no obviously Labour comments – seems a bit odd. Any thoughts why?

What should we do with Prime Minister's Questions?

As you may just have guessed from some of my previous blog postings about Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), I’m not exactly a fan. As I’ve written on Liberal Democrat Voice today:

But the point at which I draw the line in defending my profession [politics] is Prime Minister’s Questions. What an awful testosterone-fuelled bear pit of badly behaved boys (and it is overwhelmingly boys!) that is!

In the absence of a few ASBOs being dished out to the serial hecklers and shouters, what then is to be done?

For my suggestions – you’ll have to go and read the article!

A disaster a day keeps Labour in dismay

Minced by Vince! Poor old Gordon Brown in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday – from ‘Stalin to Mr Bean’ is a perfect description of the PM’s journey thus far. As one who thinks PMQs is just playtime for little boys – I have to say that ‘soundbite’ did make me smile (to my chagrin). The Labour Party woes know no end. A disaster a day keeps Labour in dismay. The faces of the Labour troops on the benches told it all. They must be devastated by such goings on. Vince and Chris Huhne have now asked the police to investigate.

Also yesterday, attended the Parliamentary launch of the report that came out of our trip to South Africa to look at business and how it is dealing with the AIDS and HIV pandemic. It is an excellent report from Business Action for Africa – so congrats to them and to SAB Miller, Anglo American and Meurk who were the key three companies involved in our trip.

The recommendations are about how to make partnerships work – as it is clear that the South African governemnt, NGOs, donors and business all need to work together to really create a proper delivery of health services to the nation.

It’s just the beginning – but it is an excellent report. John Hutton (Secretary of State) was there as we want him to use Government influence to push this agenda – and hopefully he will be a strong advocate for this – using business as a full partner.

Interestingly, and unbeknown to us, John has a brother living in Capetown and is fully au fait with all the issues around AIDS there – so undertood the issues from his own personal experience.

Parliament: it's like a badly behaved playground

Sunday night – so did my stint on Radio 4’s The Westminster Hour again. It was reasonably lively tonight. No prizes for guessing the main topic – leadership! Both Brown at PMQs and Ming.

I am so fed up with this Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQs) rubbish. The House loves it. The media loves it. It is a great spectator sport (blood sport that is) but it is not the way to judge leadership or to hold the PM to account – at least, not if you are a grown up. It’s boys behaving like boys do – and I don’t mean that as a compliment!

Can you imagine anyone in the real world behaving like that? Can you imagine in your workplace that sort of shouting and disorder passing for normal at meetings where the manager answers questions from staff or the directors answer to shareholders? I think not! Yet in the majesty of Parliament – we have the behaviour of the playground. And our political system is meant to rest on this sort of behavour. Not impressed!

Anyway – my verdict on this week was that I thought Brown did his best (following his delivery of his own mortal blow in terms of bad judgement) and Cameron just appeared like an upper class bully boy – famed of public school films.

As for Ming – yes Simon Hughes said what he said. But the way it was portrayed in the media was OTT. It was a statement of the bleeding obvious for any party – you always want to do better. So – pooh to all of that!

PMQs: I get to question Gordon Brown

Lynne Featherstone at PMQsSooooooooooooo – at last my number came up in the ballot and I get to ask a question at Prime Minister’s Questions (basically – other than party leaders – MPs are picked at random to ask the other questions).

Although I think Gordon Brown had other worries today (like his political life) I managed my question competently (I thought) and was rewarded with a reasonably progressive answer. He was forced to admit that Haringey School’s funding deal needs “continued looking at” following my impassioned plea for a fair funding deal for the borough’s schools (the topic of my online petition).

I asked the PM to end the injustice that Haringey schools received on average £736 less per pupil than in inner London, even though local teachers are paid on inner London pay scales. Gordon Brown conceded the point and stated that outer London funding would continue to be looked into.

I will follow up with a letter as a chink has opened up and I am damned if our kids are going to get less than neighbouring boroughs for another three years until the funding formula is substantively reviewed. Waiting for a review may be fine in bureaucracy land – but those children aren’t going to get those three years of education back again – and of course we don’t know for sure what the review will even decide then, or on what timescale. So get a move on Gordon!

Ten most popular blog postings (3rd quarter, 2007)

As well as being my blog’s birthday today, it is also three months on since my previous three month round up of the most popular postings on my blog.

So here once again is a list of the postings that proved the most popular with you, the reader, in the last three months:

10. Flooding in Muswell Hill: title says it all really.

9. Haringey Conservative turns UKIP: William McDougall switches parties.

8. More on Wood Green’s Waterstone’s: the sad loss of a local bookshop. Not quite sure why this posting did better than my previous / longer one, but there you go!

7. More on Brian Paddick and the London Mayor: see number three below.

6. Birthplace of TV at Alexandra Palace to be lost? An old posting this – but certainly a big local issue. That the new owner is also involved in football may help explain its interest.

5. PMQs: What do you think? Prime Minister’s Questions – good for democracy or embarrassing weekly display of rowdy behaviour by MPs?

4. Tim Garden: August was marred by Tim’s tragically early death.

3. Don’t vote for me: no, I wasn’t planning to run for London Mayor in 2008. But thanks for the online votes!

2. Should YouTube be closed: a posting about the decision by one teaching union to call for the closure of YouTube – because of its role in some bullying episodes. My view? “No” – wholesale closure would be an ineffective over-reaction. But click through to read more…

1. Fortismere School update: perhaps no great surprise that news of the future of a local school should have attracted the most traffic – and in fact this very posting topped the list in the previous three month period too. I hope my postings helped shed a little more light on what was happening during what has been a controversial episode.

What to make of the whole list? Well – it is good to see a mix of local, Liberal Democrat and national stories – which must mean there’s a good mix of readers out there! It also looks like postings often pick up quite a lot of readership some time after they were first written (and hence the poor showing of the most recent blog postings in the list) – something to remember when I write them!

Anyway – thanks for reading – and we’ll see what the next three months brings.

PMQs: what do you think?

One of the issues I’m pondering over the summer is what to make of Prime Minister’s Question Time. To me – yes, it’s great theatre and even fun at time but – it’s utterly crap as a way of holding the Prime Minister or Government to account – and I doubt the baying mob moment where everyone (except polite Lib Dems of course!) is cheering or booing does much for the reputation of politics.

After all – what would you think of someone who behaved in a work meeting the way the boorish heckling backbenchers do at PMQs? So – you may have guessed I’m not impressed!

Still though I’d be interested to hear other people’s views – what do you make of PMQs? Is it any good? Does it damage politics etc? Let me know what you think!

(Update: my fellow MP John Hemming has expressed his views on PMQs over at his blog).