For Corbyn’s dispatch box debut - five facts about PMQs

Jeremy Corbyn in the media spotlight
Jeremy Corbyn in the media spotlight
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JEREMY Corbyn has said he hopes Prime Minister’s Questions can be made “less theatrical” and more “factual”.

But can the veteran left-winger’s bid to overhaul the famous Commons showdown succeed where others have faltered?

1. Until the 1950s, questions to the PM were treated much like other ministers - and could be tabled without notice on most sitting days. However, as they were placed low down on the list few were actually posed.

In 1953, as a courtesy to the ailing Winston Churchill, it was decided he would only have to answer on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sir Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan continued this system until 1961, when a Procedure Committee recommendation for two dedicated 15-minute sessions a week was accepted - effectively heralding the gladiatorial clash we know today.

2. Initially the enquiries were on specific issues. But by the mid-1970s MPs were using “open” questions, asking the PM to state his engagements for the day, and then raising the substantive issue in a supplementary.

This meant the premier found it harder to palm them off for reply by another minister. And in 1977 Jim Callaghan set a lasting precedent by agreeing that he should address all the questions himself.

3. In 1997 Tony Blair, having watched John Major devote a large proportion of his working week to preparation, amalgamated the two sessions into a single 30-minute inquisition on Wednesdays.

He also insisted he wanted to end the “yah-boo” of British politics.

But his efforts and the extended length seemed to make little difference to the wall of noise and aggression.

Similarly, shortly after becoming Tory leader in 2005, David Cameron promised to end the “Punch and Judy politics”.

4. By 2008, having branded Gordon Brown a “loser not a leader” in a particularly bitter clash, he admitted: “I will absolutely hold up my hands and say this is a promise I have not been able to deliver.”

He added: “The quieter tone I’d hoped we might be able to have, the better discussion of politics at Prime Minister’s Questions, doesn’t work.”

5. Ed Miliband also struggled vainly to “change the tone” of PMQs - despite backing from one of the most vociferous critics of the encounters, Speaker John Bercow.

Mr Bercow has consistently complained about the deafening heckling in the chamber, and argued that the public “despise” the level of debate.

Mr Cameron has indicated he is willing to discuss proposals for change with Mr Corbyn and the Speaker.

But it will not be easy - many fear that cooling the temperature of the debate will also rob it of excitement and vibrancy.