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John Bercow’s problem with PMQs

17 April 2014

5:27 PM

17 April 2014

5:27 PM

John Bercow doesn’t like Prime Minister’s Questions. He’s told the BBC in an interview that it is ‘so bad’—in other words, rowdy—that a bunch of female MPs no longer attend.

PMQs is becoming particularly partisan with the approach of the election. Miliband has abandoned his attempts to change it just as quickly as Cameron did before him. But Bercow would do well to look closely at his own role in setting the tone of these sessions.

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From the chair, Bercow understandably tries to silence the hecklers. But, sometimes, he seems to be indulging in a bit of ‘Punch and Judy’ too. Often he moves into put-down mode, trying to get the House to laugh at the offender. Or, and I think this is much worse, he unhelpfully warns the House against groaning when certain MPs rise to ask a question—as he did with Tim Farron recently. This has, the predictable effect, of encouraging MPs to groan even more loudly the next time this MPs gets up.

If Bercow wants to change the tone of PMQs, he should start by changing the way that he chairs it.

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Show comments
  • JonBW

    Worst Speaker in living memory?

    • Peter Stroud

      I seem to remember a certain Scot who was even worse.

  • zoid

    the speaker needs to be someone who commands respect across the house…

    bercow is not that man.

    crackerjack!

  • ButcombeMan

    Bercow plainly lacks the respect from MPs that would enable him to keep a grip on affairs.

    He is a substantial part of the problem.

  • you_kid

    What a recovery!
    The speaker speaks – when did the electorate last have the chance to truly appreciate what it is that he is actually saying between the lines?

  • AndyB

    I find this incredible. 21st Century female MPs who won’t even sit in the chamber and don’t advertise why? It would be fair enough criticism if it were done on principle and made apparent to us all – their electorate – as a method of advancing Parliamentary process. But if all we have is media radio silence in this era of twitter incontinence it simple doesn’t hold water, Mr Speaker.

  • Guest

    “Immediately after the 1997 general election, Prime Minister Blair appeared to favour a more thoughtful approach to Prime Minister’s question time by proposing that the previous two fifteen-minute slots be replaced with a single half-hour session, evidently to enable issues to be examined in more depth. In practice, that worthy ambition seems to have been disregarded. The first years of the Blair government saw question time used increasingly by Labour MPs to indulge the government’s apparent fondness for being showered with meaningless compliments couched in inane language, many of which were evidently extracted by the backbenchers concerned from lists of prepared questions produced by the government.” Constitutional Law 6th Edition – Ian Loveland p144

    For all the faults of our educational system, it is nice to see that some truths are still able to squeeze through.

  • Smithersjones2013

    If Bercow wants to change the tone of PMQs, he should start by changing the way that he chairs it.

    What a novel idea. The head narcissist changing his self promoting ways? Nah never happen…..

  • southerner

    Bercow’s right to have a downer on PMQs but not for the reasons he describes.
    It’s just that, for anyone with an ounce of intelligence, it’s quite obviously a ridiculous weekly pretend differentiation exercise between the liblabcon. It shouldn’t convince anyone.

    • HookesLaw

      its you thats bogus

      • southerner

        “,,,for anyone with an ounce of intelligence…”
        Enough said.

  • http://twitter.com/True_Belle True_Belle

    Little men are given such a hard time…

    • FuglydeQuietzapple

      Well put your Giant Rat back on his leash.

  • David Booth.

    If Bercow isn’t up to the job he should move over and let a more competent person do it.

    • HenryWood

      LOL! Move over is about right! He wouldn’t need to move out of the way – just shuffle over a bit, Wee Johnny, eh?

  • drewswlon

    Mr Speaker Bercow stands head and shoulders below his predecessors. Truly, a man of hidden shallows.

  • Donafugata

    He doesn’t seem capable of keeping his wife in order, why he thinks he can control thie house of hyenas is anybody’s guess.

  • Radford_NG

    It’s called democracy…….and it’s traditional:it isn’t an accident the two rows of benches are three sword lengths apart.

    • Kaine

      The swords’ length thing is a myth. You’ve never been allowed swords in the chamber, there are even specific hooks outside for them.

  • saffrin

    PMQ’s is the greatest TV comedy show on Earth.
    For those that haven’t seen it yet just imagine The Three Stooges masquerading as opposition and a monkey.
    Oh what I laugh, or at least would be if it wasn’t so tragic.

    • alanmdouglas

      I’m thinking of marketing 2 noddy dog style politicians for the back shelves of cars – a “Harman” bitch and a “Balls” dog, do you think there would be a market for them ? Once they are no longer in opposition ?

      • saffrin

        I’m sure the sales of a Bliar doll hanging from a jib and a Brown doll in a straght jacket would rebuild the country’s economy on their own.

  • CharlietheChump

    Bercow should leave taking that awful self promotional wifething with him. All will be well thereafter.

  • Robert_Eve

    Great post James.

  • swatnan

    Bercow is the problem.
    Should have been Margaret Becket or sir george as Speaker, then no problemo.

    • Doggie Roussel

      Margaret Becket; a gargoyle in charge of the monkey house… only Baroness Ashton could have added more pantomime effect to the House of Commons…

      • HenryWood

        Tee-Hee! I don’t often seem to agree with you but on this occasion you have my one hundred percent unadulterated dibs on the gargoyle in the monkey house.
        p.s. Re Baroness Ashton – is that the Euro Thingy Bitch or does Paddy make an entrance here?

        • Doggie Roussel

          The Euro Ogress… my granddaughter started crying when she appeared on our television screen….

          A woman without a shred of experience or talent… and who gave her a lovely sinecure in Brussels?… You guessed it… Tony Blair, who one day, hopefully, will be spending a lot of time in the Hague.

  • http://www.stuartcrow.com/ Stuart Crow

    I think it’s a great pity nobody has put down a motion of censure on Bercow in this Parliament. It will be a disaster if he persists after 2015. Bercow doesn’t so much chair PMQs as try and join in with the fight; of course PMQs could be more orderly, but he’s like a circus ringmaster whipping things up, not a chairman or guardian of the dignity of the Commons.

    • Colonel Mustard

      It does seem to have become more rowdy with him as Speaker.

    • Mynydd

      Members of the House of Commons vote on the position of Mr Speaker, therefore it’s not down to Mr Bercow who will be Mr Speaker after 2015.

  • @PhilKean1

    .
    He wants to do away with the one factor that makes PMQs compulsory viewing here and around the world?

    TV reporters show clips of people who, when asked their opinion about PMQs, say that they (MPs) all behave like school-children. And to a man and woman, that’s all they ever say.

    But here’s the news. The people who say that would never dream of ever tuning in to watch a live session of PMQs. Which is why they are only ever able to refer to what has become the “stock” answer.

    How tragic, then, that some people, including – it seems – Mr Bercow, believe them.
    .

  • HookesLaw

    Bercow is an Archie Rice of Speakers.

    • HenryWood

      Quite correct, playing himself out to an ever decreasing number of interested spectators.

      By gad, sir! You might have got it! You might at last have simply got it!

      Go and lay down on a cool bed and let Matron check you “out”.

  • Hello

    It’s not the best idea in the world for the speaker to go on manoeuvres against, essentially, the entire Commons, is it? He’s not really stupid enough to think this stuff is harmless, is he? It makes MPs look bad. Where’s his army? 650 strong, I hope.

  • dado_trunking

    Ah, the plebiscite is slowly prepared for a circular, no longer square Commons?

    A chamber that will host politicians that people want to vote for, not those who are left over once all those are omitted that one does not want to vote for?

    No, of course not – of course he is not saying that, of course he is just doing what everyone’s doing, talking about stuff that does not matter one bit.

  • MirthaTidville

    The unprincipled dwarf is the very epitome of all that is wrong with British Politics.

    • Barakzai

      And him with such a sophisticated wife, too . . .

      • Donafugata

        Do you mean Silly Bercow, the blowsy barmaid?

      • David Booth.

        Her main talent appears to be getting drunk and picking up men in bars.

  • Inverted Meniscus

    Well I don’t think many of us would mind if this nasty, puffed up, egotistical, self-important Labour stooge absented himself from PMQs.

    • telemachus

      On the other hand if you do want to advise and comment on Labour you could laud the charismatic one who does not jeer or shout but quietly uses expressions and hand signals to get across the truth
      *
      Magnificent

      • Inverted Meniscus

        Do you mean the ranting, raving puce coloured idiot of Autumn Statement fame? The man who left the scene of an accident only to be picked up by the Police on CCTV? That nasty dishonest little man?

        • telemachus

          I thought the thread was about PMQ’s
          In that he is magnificent and plays by all the Bercow rules

          • Colonel Mustard

            Ed the Magnificent sounds like some cheap music hall magician with a wonky turban whose tricks don’t work. And they don’t.

            • telemachus

              They will
              Cameron is on the run
              Even Blair did not need to invoke God

            • Andy

              Ed the Moron has a better ring to it.

            • Mynydd

              When he pointed out the all male front bench during PMQs the trick worked wonders, did you not see how red in the face Mr Cameron went.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Yes, “trick” being the operative word.

        • David Booth.

          Yup! that’s yer man.

          • telemachus

            Your avatar is a badge of honour
            You should live up to it

            • David Booth.

              And I do, although the badge is probably not what you think it is!

              • telemachus

                intriguing

              • Colonel Mustard

                They hi-jacked the English red rose because in true Fabian wolf in sheep’s clothing fashion they couldn’t use the red star. That would be too obvious.

                • rick hamilton

                  They still sing the Red Flag at their annual conference. Why don’t the Tories remind us relentlessly of Labour’s continuing admiration for murderous totalitarian ideologies?

                • telemachus

                  The red flag is a joyous song that continues to unite the reasonable across the world
                  If you attend Conference you witness its emotional power to unite
                  The Tories divided unto themselves cannot hope to emulate

                • rick hamilton

                  There’s lots of joyous singing and dancing in North Korea, whether they like it or not. Keeps their minds off the pangs of hunger and forced labour camps that go with genuine socialism.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  It’s communism pretending that it’s not. You are a bunch of devious communists who deploy “low cunning” and pretence in order to get elected because you know that if you tried to get elected as the Communist Party you would stand no chance.

                  There is nothing reasonable about what you aspire to, you horrid little man.

                • Shorne

                  People like you who still go on about Communists are like those Japanese Soldiers who were discovered in the Burmese jungle decades after the war finished.

                • telemachus

                  Let me shake your hand sir

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Yeah, that’s right, no such thing as communists now. Just a bad dream.

                  And people like you are idiots.

                • Shorne

                  Yes maybe there are some left…I bet there’s one under your bed right now…quick go and look !

                • Mynydd

                  No such thing as communists now, just as there are, no such thing as extreme right-wing fascist. Just a bad dream, tell that to the people of Spain and Portugal.

                • Colonel Mustard

                  You are another idiot. Probably the most boring advocate of the Labour party who trolls here.

                  Maybe you should tell the people of these countries about communism:-

                  https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/COM.ART.HTM

                • telemachus

                  Forget the means
                  The goal is power
                  Whether you attain that by employing 3 strikers
                  Or by shining lasers into the eyes of the opposing full backs
                  You need to get that goal

        • Jack

          You’re picking on a man because of his colour? You can have many complaints about the man – I do too – but leave that out.

      • Ricky Strong

        “Immediately after the 1997 general election, Prime Minister Blair appeared to favour a more thoughtful approach to Prime Minister’s question time by proposing that the previous two fifteen-minute slots be replaced with a single half-hour session, evidently to enable issues to be examined in more depth. In practice, that worthy ambition seems to have been disregarded. The first years of the Blair government saw question time used increasingly by Labour MPs to indulge the government’s apparent fondness for being showered with meaningless compliments couched in inane language, many of which were evidently extracted by the backbenchers concerned from lists of prepared questions produced by the government.” Constitutional Law 6th Edition – Ian Loveland p144

        • Andrew Smith

          Blair “reformed” PMQs so that he didn’t have to spend too much time preparing. He had one of the worst Parliamentary attendance records in modern times. Whichever reasons he spun for doing it, he was not characterized by his respect for Parliament.

          • Ricky Strong

            It was more the second part of the paragraph I was alluding to. It’s been really interesting studying law, the sheer volume of changes the Blair government enacted within seconds it seems of coming into power is rather alarming.

          • Mynydd

            It is on record that Mrs Thatcher spend all morning preparing for PMQ that is two full mornings each week for two fifteen minutes in the Commons.

        • Mynydd

          I would remind you the Conservative whips send e-mail each Wednesday, a list of prepared questions, which must be used, to indulge Mr Cameron’s fondness for being showered with meaningless compliments couched in inane language.
          Constitution Law 6th Edition – Ian Loveland p1

      • kyalami

        May I check a technical matter with you? These hand signals: are they one-fingered or two-fingered?

        • telemachus

          As you would imagine the charismatic one is far more creative
          Week on week he rattles Cameron

          • Inverted Meniscus

            Surely his career with the Muppet show will interfere with his parliamentary commitments? That and answering police questions about leaving the scene of an accident.

      • Frank

        Charismatic? He is about as charismatic as a dose of the clap. He is also utterly shameless, having supported and assisted the great nutter Gordon Brown, he now rides on. As the French say: excrement floats to the surface.
        I suppose the handy thing is that he will be easy to arrest whenever that glorious day arrives.

    • Kaine

      Bercow was a Tory MP. He got the Speakership because of Relentless Tory pressure on Martin to resign. The Tories had a chance to get rid of him and declined to do so.

      If you don’t like him fine, but it has nothing to do with Labour.

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