In recent years, there’s been much talk of the decline in Prime Minister’s Questions. In the first instalment of the BBC2 “Inside the Commons” series this week, exchanges between David Cameron & Ed Miliband were labelled ‘juvenile’ by Labour MP Sarah Champion, while Father of the House Sir Peter Tapsell bemoaned the descent into apparent personal disrespect between the two leaders, over the past 25 years – in other words, since Prime Minister’s Questions was first televised, in November 1989.
Certainly the exchanges I’ve heard (radio coverage had been available long before ’89) between Margaret Thatcher and Jim Callaghan or Michael Foot, seem to have been courteous by comparison. But it’s not so much the abuse and the rabble rousing (though that is lamentable enough) that frustrates me, but the increasing tendency, from the Leader of the Opposition, to hurl accusations in addition to asking questions, and worse still, the Prime Minister’s view that there’s no requirement to actually answer any of Ed Miliband’s questions at all.
During yesterday’s exchange, my frustration boiled over when Miliband asked the PM five times for an explanation of why a specific tax relief had been granted to Hedge Funds. I wasn’t aware of this, and was interested to know the answer. Five times he was asked, and five times he didn’t even address the question, instead choosing to attack Labour on various (barely) related issues.
Now, at times, I can understand why Government ministers might dodge such questions. Very often, the counter arguments take too long, and the average voter will be too bored to listen. I get that.
But it took Andrew Neil, on the BBC’s Daily Politics show, well under a minute to summarize the basic argument in favour of the tax break. Here’s the clip.
Sure, the details might be complicated, but the basic premise of the argument is not difficult to understand. Labour says the Tories are helping out their rich friends by removing the tax, but the Tories say the tax reduction results in a higher tax take from the companies overall, which is better for the country. It’s a similar argument to the 50>45p income tax reduction for those earning more than £150k per annum.
So why on Earth can the Prime Minister not simply set out the counter-argument?
Perhaps he wasn’t across, or had forgotten, this particular policy detail and didn’t know the answer? I could understand that, but this sort of thing happens every week. Ed Miliband will ask the Prime Minister about some NHS target or other, and two things are guaranteed – one, that the PM won’t answer the question; two, that he will reply by slamming Labour’s NHS record in Wales.
Sadly there seems to be a mindset amongst political advisers on all sides of the house, that only the most basic issues are simple enough for the average voter to understand. But many voters currently agree with Labour’s line, being that Tories reduce these taxes simply to do their rich mates a favour. By ignoring these questions, when actually he has an answer, surely David Cameron is reinforcing that view?
Would it not have been to the Prime Minister’s advantage to set out the argument explained above by Andrew Neil. He could have done that, and still left plenty of time to get in his soundbites for the Six O’Clock News.
I want to hear arguments like this properly played out at Prime Minister’s Questions, rather than have the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition baiting each other like a couple of Sixth Formers.
Serious political debate is what PMQs is for, the Sun readers aren’t watching anyway, so for God’s sake answer the bloody question!!