Thursday, 8 July 2010

Why is John Bercow trying to kill the Commons?

John Bercow took the Speaker’s chair in the wake of the expenses scandal – having promised to give Parliament back to the people.

But he seems to be a little misguided over what that means.

In his speech to the Centre for Parliamentary Studies yesterday he called PMQs the “shop window” of the Commons and said that because it dominated media coverage and drew viewers, the impression set was crucial.

That led him to the conclusion that it had to change with less “abuse” and more “scrutiny”. PMQs should be less dominated by the leaders, more for backbenchers and there should be fewer planted questions, he said.

The thing is, what Bercow calls abuse others might well call scrutiny. Yes, it’s not picking over the fine detail of policy, but that is work for committees.

The Commons is a forum with free flowing debate at its very core.

If people want to watch that heavy sort of scrutiny they can watch committees on BBC Parliament which is free to view, but I’m pretty sure people aren’t rushing to watch those.

The question is this – If Politician A asks a tough question in a clever way that stumps Politician B and therefore makes him look silly, is that abuse or does it simply show that Politician A had a very good point?

PMQs is the “shop window”, but that is not some sort of coincidence, it is not chance that people happen to be in front of their TVs at noon every Wednesday.

It’s the shop window of Parliament because of the goods on show, because people want to watch that high speed, clever, knock-about debate – because there is demand for it.

It does touch on key policy, but without getting too heavy and gives a wider mass audience – which otherwise might not watch any politics at all – a way to connect with it.

It is dominated by the leaders, but that is because that’s what people are tuning in to see – the PM in PMQs stands for Prime Minister.

The issue over planted questions is a valid one. But until you get rid of party patronage, deconstruct the whips system and remove the executive from the Commons, that’s not going to change.

Bercow should stop tinkering around with the one thing that attracts mass-interest in the daily grind of British politics.

He also made a point about sound bites, claiming there were far too many. He then went on to say of PMQs: "If it is scrutiny at all, then it is scrutiny by screech."

2 comments:

Mark @ Israel said...

Bercow isn't supposed to stop the Commons because it is what people want to watch. I think it is the people's right to get to see what kind of leaders they voted for and what kind of leaders they should seek for.

Anonymous said...

"He also made a point about sound bites, claiming there were far too many."

But at the same time he thinks there are too many long questions and answers. A bit inconsistent, perhaps?

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