Only 64 days remain until Britons go to the polls in the most unpredictable General Election in decades. For those in the Westminster Village there are only four more occasions, including today’s, to witness the Prime Minister being tackled on a whole host of policy and political issues. MPs are certainly counting down the clock judging by their raucous behaviour.
Not even Mr Speaker’s oft-used call for them to consider the “opinion of the public” was sufficient to instil some sense of decorum. Many criticise PMQs for permitting, if not encouraging, rowdy and enthusiastic political point-scoring. Those critics rightly ask what does the public glean from this Parliamentary spectacle?
Those people would probably be better off reading a policy briefing than tuning into PMQs on a weekly basis. It is not an entirely outrageous idea that we should all be reconciled to the fact that PMQs is pure political theatre. Generally speaking it does not rest on discovering some hitherto unknown fact or listening to a detailed explanation of a particular initiative. It is, as politics nearly always is, about people.
Thinking about the human element provides a few interesting observations. For a start; what has happened to Flashman? Where is the red-faced PM of yore with his ill-advised use of Michael Winnerisms? It seems that if he is anywhere it is probably locked up in a trunk on the orders of one Lynton Crosby. The PM appears to have learnt to keep his head when all about are losing theirs. If only the same could be said for some of his Parliamentary colleagues.
That isn’t to say that the barbs never find their target. Ed Miliband pointed out that the PM had pledged in 2010 to reduce net migration to tens of thousands, a target that the Coalition has dramatically failed to meet. The Tory leader had in fact gone further, said Mr Miliband, and told voters; “If we don’t deliver on our side of the bargain, vote us out in five years’ time.” If Nick Clegg, besieged by repeated clips of his own pledge on tuition fees, enjoys schadenfreude it wasn’t obvious from his facial expression.
Beyond the tub-thumping and the pre-planned questions from various party HQs there was time for a more considered view on some matters. Aidan Burley raised an issue he has spent years campaigning on which will see more disabled teenagers get access to appropriately-specified wheelchairs – a campaign that saw him work with an opposition candidate who had stood against him at the 2010 General Election.
Meanwhile Liz McInnes asked a question that all Labour MPs ask and that Conservative Party strategists also want answering, namely how can the Government ensure everyone feels the benefit of the economic recovery. The PM reeled off a standard set of statistics, much of which had been reinforced in his earlier answers around pay, jobs and apprenticeships. All of this is at the centre of the “long-term economic plan” that it seems every Conservative MP must mention at least once per TV appearance.
However, whilst the PM may have a long-term plan for the economy, it is increasingly obvious that his short-term political one is hoping the results start providing answers for Liz’s constituents in Heywood & Middleton, and millions more, as soon as possible.