The Establishment pottiness of PMQs, reform or no reform

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Commentary by Derek Bateman

My first response is Who Cares? PMQs? Haud me back…a platform for the bully boys and bigots to bawl at each other, point like cricket umpires as a wicket falls and wave their order papers like students on Putney Bridge watching the Boat Race.

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

It is an arena made for public schoolboys and Cameron, after his initial No More Punch and Judy promise, has shone as Flashman, pink with outrage, blustering about ‘living within our means’ while doubling the national debt. Might as well be singing the Eton Boating song.

Of course the Corbyn approach is a contrivance but no less symbolically important for that. Why not rename the silly event the People’s Question Time? Why not a format that allows those plebs and oiks who pay for the bloody place a chance to ask a question? What was instructive on the day was just how hard Cameron had to work to keep calm and control his rising voice as each pertinent question came in.

Remember, he can’t dismiss them as meaningless if they come from the voters. And it made his normal device of turning every question round to his own pre-planned agenda transparent…he ended at least three answers with a mention of the ‘success of the economy’, clearly the major target for Tories anxious to play on Corby weakness. (So they think). It looked what it was – desperate.

This understated Corbyn approach won’t work forever, unless the plan is to kill off PMQs as a televised event – no bad thing. There will be times when one issue dominates and no doubt we’ll see the comeback to each answer to discover if Corbyn can master the debating society technique. But this was a total change from the playground embarrassment we’re used to and caused us to rethink what parliament is for.

Should it be more interrogative? Can we hear the Prime Minister actually detailing what he thinks and how he justifies financial penalties on poor families, how London will look when it is cleansed of lower income people, what constitutes a family ‘opting to live on benefits.’ Can he justify the massive benefits paid out to business and the failure to capture their taxes properly? Why haven’t we repatriated the billions stashed in tax havens and stopped non tax payers spending more than a week or two in Britain, or prevented them from owning property here? (Or would that exclude his wife’s family estate on Jura?)

I’m glad Corbyn is refusing to play the hypocritical Establishment game of bowing to Andrew Marr, singing stupid anthems about being reigned over, always wearing the uniform of suit and tie and daring to introduce people’s questions into the peoples chamber. I’m glad the commentators don’t know what to make of it and have been denied their weekly theatre to fire their bile.

The new politics in itself isn’t that different, as we know. It’s just human, honest and humble. And that’s why its effect is completely different. Corbyn may have no significant impact in Scotland at all but in forcing right wing Labour careerists to talk of defection and disorientating the British elite, he is turning the fawning Westminster beast in on itself. Will it work? That’s for a real Question Time.