Review: Punch and Judy Politics: An Insiders’ Guide To Prime Minister’s Questions

4 Jun 2018

“Richard Burgon (Labour MP for Leeds East): If the British people vote to leave the European Union, will the prime minister resign – Yes or no?

David Cameron (Prime Minister and Conservative MP for Witney): No.”

 

This answer proved to be false. Shortly after the result of the European Referendum came through, David Cameron announced that he would be resigning as Prime Minister, and Theresa May has been answering Prime Ministerial questions at the dispatch box ever since.

 

The book in which this now infamous question is quoted is a joint venture by two leading Labour Party figures. Ayesha Hazarika is now stand-up comedienne with her own show called State of the Nation. She has previously some spent time working as a special advisor for Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband when Labour were in government. Later, after Labour left office, she spent some of her time advising the Labour leadership what the hot topics would be at that week's Prime Minister's Questions, and how they should be prepared to tackle them.

 

Tom Hamilton was the head researcher in the Labour Party when they were in government, and has since helped Harriet Harman, Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn prepare for PMQs. He would conduct in-depth research of topical issues, so he could prepare thoughtful questions for the Labour leaders to deliver.

 

PMQs is a half an hour debating session on a Wednesday at midday, although it can sometimes go on for much longer. Questions would usually go between the government (Conservatives) in charge and Her Majesty’s Opposition (Labour) but questions often come from other party leaders in the Commons, such as the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh parties, as well as from the humble backbenchers.

 

The book gives a great insight into issues currently dominating the political climate for citizens who would normally sit in the public gallery of the Commons, or who would watch the debates on TV. The book details how topics such as Brexit, terrorism, the NHS, education and mental health are discussed through questions which move back and forth between the party leaders, or from other members in the chamber.

 

For example, in chapter two, the book describes the variations in questions asked by difference sides of the house. If the opposition asks the question, it is attacking, while the government's response would take the form of a defence. As the authors both know from working with Labour leaders, the Prime Minister does not get the luxury of deciding the topics of the questions, so therefore must be on the ball with the answers.

 

Going further into the book, chapter ten discusses the role of the backbenches and smaller parties. In an interview with John Bercow, the Speaker reveals than during PMQs, he calls the MPs whose names are listed on the order paper, and tries to get in as many questions from the backbenchers as possible. He also tells the authors that since 2015, the SNP has been awarded three questions at PMQs, including two to their Westminster leader Ian Blackford. This is due to them being the third largest party. Bercow says that he makes sure there is equal representation between all of the parties in the chamber, and that no other minority parties are left out.

 

The calibre of people both Hazarika and Hamilton spoke with incredible. Respected Labour members such as Alison McGovern, Dennis Skinner, Harriet Harman, Ed Miliband, Angela Eagle and Neil Kinnock, and respected Conservative members such as Anna Soubry, John Whittingdale, and William Hague all contributed to this book, which gives a great insight into the workings of Prime Minister’s Questions from all sides of the political spectrum.

 

The book argues that PMQs is a good thing because the people who watch it get a feel of how the Government and the Opposition are doing in the key areas of the day or week. It can expose weaknesses, not just for the Government, but also for the opposition. For example, the authors exposed how weak Nick Clegg was when he was Deputy Prime Minister.

 

I would highly recommend this book. Not only is it funny in parts, it is also educational because, as previously mentioned, it gives an insight into the workings of PMQs. You do not have to be a die-hard fan of politics or a mainstream political party member to get anything out of this book. It is worth reading for anyone who is looking to educate themselves about something new.

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