‘Childish’ PMQs set bad example to voters - Bercow

JOHN Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has made a fresh appeal to party leaders to curb the “yobbery and public school twittishness” of their MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).

John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons. Picture: PA
John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons. Picture: PA

Mr Bercow has reportedly written to David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg seeking their responses to evidence that the tone and content of PMQs is putting voters off politics.

Research by the Hansard Society found the most common descriptions of the weekly 30-minute Commons session were “noisy”, “childish”, “over the top” and “pointless”.

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The Speaker has long called for reform of the set-piece session for the sake of improving parliament’s public image, and has been strident in chastising offending MPs.

PMQs ‘put people off politics’

Focus groups were asked about PMQs as part of the Hansard Society’s annual examination of public engagement and more than two thirds said there was “too much party political point-scoring instead of answering the question”.

Almost half (47 per cent) said it was “too noisy and aggressive”, 48 per cent disagreed that MPs behaved professionally, and by a margin of 33 per cent to 27 per cent the panel reported that that PMQs put them off politics.

Only 12 per cent said it made them “proud of our Parliament”.

“There are people who think culturally the atmosphere is very male, very testosterone-fuelled and, in the worst cases, of yobbery and public school twittishness,” Mr Bercow told The Independent newspaper.

“I don’t think we should be prissy about this, but I am not sure we’re setting a good example to the next generation of voters,” he said, adding that he wanted to hear the views of party leaders before considering a Speaker’s Commission.

‘Wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere’

Dr Ruth Fox, director and head of research at the Hansard Society, said: “The public think the conduct of MPs is childish and wouldn’t be tolerated in other work places.

“They think politicians are simply not taking the issues that affect their lives seriously enough.

“Reform is overdue if PMQs is to move from being an inward-looking and self-referential event towards its proper role of scrutiny and accountability.”

Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke accused Mr Bercow of being “biased” and said it was his fault that he was unable to control behaviour at PMQs, unlike previous speaker Baroness Boothroyd.

The Elmet and Rothwell MP wrote on Twitter: “Bercow needs to look in the mirror. Betty never had the need to resort to whining. His biased approach is why he’s lost control of PMQs.”

Fellow Tory Sarah Wollaston had her own suggestions to improve PMQs: “Speaker could just stop calling the worst PMQ hecklers and ban the c**p planted ‘helpful’ questions.”

Dr Wollaston added: “At PMQs anyone can get heckled, male or female, but it’s like swimming with sharks once there’s a drop of blood in the water.”

The Totnes MP said it was “astonishing” that whips on either side of the House could think the public want to hear “braying” noises from MPs at PMQs.