Abolish PMQs


Dear Member of Parliament


May I ask you, please, to consider seriously joining with your parliamentary colleagues to decide whether Prime Minister’s Questions should be discontinued. My view is that it should be – as soon as possible.


I know that you and your fellow members of parliament are intelligent and extremely hard-working, and in your different ways are committed to improving the lives of all of us. However, I am bewildered and troubled by the disruptive and immature behaviour that is regularly displayed at Prime Minister’s Questions. The cheering, heckling, and general rowdiness, along with the belittling of other people’s opinions, is neither a sensible nor an effective way of governing this country in the best interests of all its people.


The behaviour at Prime Minister’s Questions, and, it has to be said, on other occasions also, has many damaging consequences which I set out below.


First, it creates a climate of disrespect for other people’s beliefs and opinions which unfortunately spreads out from parliament into society at large. It sets a poor example to everyone but particularly to young people. Not listening to, nor respecting, other points of view has the potential to develop into an intolerance of others who have different ideas about the nature of society. This is not something that should be given any encouragement. Added to this the disruptive conduct is setting an example of extremely discourteous behaviour.


A second consequence of showing disrespect and disdain for the opinions of others is that rational discussion and thoughtful decision-making are impeded. In the pursuit of point-scoring and making quick ripostes there is little room for thoughtful and considered debate. The result is that arguments are not fully explored and the best decisions may not be made.


A third effect of the unseemly behaviour at Prime Minister’s Questions is that it reinforces our adversarial system of party politics. Political parties standing for different beliefs and policies have contributed in the past to the well-being of many people but there is now no need for them in their present form. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that left-wing ideologies are less relevant when most people have a generally good standard of living, traditional class differences are less widespread, and there is a broad political consensus that the role of any government should be to provide the conditions for people to get on in life whilst at the same time supporting those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable.


If there is no real need for political parties it is strange that many political activists, especially members of parliament, have such a strong, and often unquestioning, allegiance to them. It is bewildering that people so readily abandon their autonomy and capacity for independent thinking and meekly follow the party line on so many issues. This gives rise to the sort of tribal politics where rational discussion is in short supply and where following the herd becomes the norm – as is seen on a weekly basis at Prime Minister’s Questions.


A fourth consequence of the aggressive behaviour displayed in the chamber of the House of Commons is that it constantly exaggerates differences between people instead of emphasising that which we all have in common. These differences are often synthetic and become more so when they are eagerly seized upon by the media with its insatiable appetite for making politics as controversial and melodramatic as possible.  


Finally, perpetuating the ritual of Prime Minister’s Questions does nothing to open up the possibility of establishing an alternative and more effective system of government, a system where it would be quite normal for people having similar beliefs to have varied opinions across a range of issues. Members of parliament would broadly identify with the sort of society they would like to see and would coalesce in loose political groupings.


I find Prime Minister’s Questions neither entertaining nor useful for clarifying issues. I am not at all persuaded by the argument that it enables policies to be teased out and subjected to serious scrutiny. This can be achieved more effectively by examining issues objectively and rationally from every angle and doing this as a matter of course whatever one’s personal views.  Nor am I persuaded that the regular ritual should be part of our political theatre. We do not need politics to be providing theatre – we can be entertained on our screens by an unlimited supply of dramatic and theatrical content.


Prime Minister’s Questions is seriously undermining thoughtful political discourse and is therefore not a sign of a healthy democracy. Of course we must always preserve our liberty to express different opinions but this must be done in a courteous manner and one which shows respect for each other’s ideas.


We can and must do better. I urge you all to resist the temptation to participate in even the slightest disruptive behaviour at Prime Minister’s Questions and to consider seriously whether the occasion should be discontinued.


Yours sincerely


Alan Kerr