Tom Richmond: This Parliamentary battle of insults is in need of reform

David Cameron during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons

David Cameron during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons

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DID you miss Prime Minister’s Questions this week? I thought not. At least the curling semi-final at the Winter Olympics, which filled the Wednesday lunchtime slot on BBC2 while Parliament was in recess, had far more purpose.

It is why the Hansard Society is probably wrong to suggest PMQs move to an early evening slot on Tuesday so more people can watch this weekly battle of insults and soundbites between David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

Can you imagine the derision if a fifth set decider at Wimbledon featuring Andy Murray, or the denouement to a Ronnie O’Sullivan match at the World Snooker Championships, was shunted onto the ubiquitous red button to make way for the now pointless pantomime posturing of PMQs?

That said, this ritual needs reform. It should be a source of pride that a Prime Minister is subjected to such an inquisition – democracies around the world admire this concept – but it needs to become more relevant to the electorate. Blaming others for failures of policy achieves nothing.

What would I do? I’d extend PMQs to an hour so backbenchers have the scope to introduce follow-up questions. My logic is that this would place the emphasis on politicians to come up with issues that are pertinent to their constituents rather than reading out scripts given to them by the party whips. It would be helpful, however, if a means could be found to give the PM advance knowledge of the subject matter so a more detailed response can be provided, particularly if it is a constituency matter.

I’d certainly like to see the Speaker name, and then expel, those politicians who become over-excitable during the main exchanges or use un-Parliamentary language. Why should Ed Balls and Michael Gove remain in the Commons if they can’t behave with some decorum?

And then I would introduce regional questions at the end of PMQs. What would this entail? Thirty minutes when MPs from a distinct geographical area, like Yorkshire, could raise issues relevant to their patch. If the PM cannot answer a question, there would be nothing to stop the relevant Minister providing a response.

With these sessions arranged on a rolling basis, it would mean that there would be at least two – possibly three – occasions each year when the Prime Minister could be held to account on Yorkshire-wide policies. The same for the North East, the North West and so on.

The one problem with this approach? The likelihood is that it would lead to more thoughtful – and less combative – exchanges, and I’m not convinced that a sufficient number of MPs want such a change to happen.

FAIR play to Esther McVey, one of the Tory party’s few surviving female MPs in the North, to admit that she doesn’t see Margaret Thatcher as her role model.

“I couldn’t. Not given where I come from,” said the Liverpudlian who is now cutting her ministerial teeth at the Department of Work and Pensions. “But if you remove the politics, which are divisive, I think as a woman her achievements were extraordinary.”

The reason this remark is significant is that McVey, the daughter of a one-time scrap merchant dealer, demonstrated a certain feistiness – she was not simply repeating what the Conservative membership want to hear.

For, like it or not, the Conservatives are only going to increase their electoral presence locally by gaining a stronger foothold in cities like Leeds, Sheffield and Hull. And they will only do that by going out of their way to reach out to the aspirational working classes rather than obsessing over a PM who left office more than 20 years ago.

WHAT does it say about Parliament when so few politicians were present to hear Gordon Brown speak so movingly about the plight of Syria’s refugees and those children who will have no future without the support of countries like Britain?

Like it or not, the former Prime Minister is a humanitarian at heart – even though he was halted in mid-flow by a Tory MP saying ‘this House do now adjourn’. After Madam Deputy Speaker (Eleanor Laing) said it was “a procedural necessity”, Brown replied: “After 30 years in this House... there are still procedures that I did not know. It is also very good to speak to a relatively empty House because there is not much opposition to what I say.”

Irrespective of one’s political persuasion and personal views as to whether Britain’s overseas aid budget should be switched to flooding victims, how sad that so few people heard Brown speak.

I’m not his biggest fan. I never will be. But I do believe that former prime ministers deserve some respect.

IF Lib Dem Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, did give £15m to Colombia, the worlds’s 30th richest nation, to help cut flatulence in cows – the claim made by International Development Secretary Justine Greening – I’m afraid he should be given the heave-ho. Such shocking decision-making is a threat to the health of the public purse, and all those battling to keep the flood waters at bay in Blighty.

Davey’s complacency probably explains why a received a Press Release on Tuesday, as the floods subsided, which began with these words: “Member of Parliament for Leeds North West, Greg Mulholland, has advised constituents to stay safe during the recent bad weather.”

I SEE that plans to overhaul A-level geography have been delayed by a year after academics raised serious concerns that the qualification is not yet “fit for purpose”.

I’m not surprised. What do they expect when Ministers do not understand the stupidity of building homes on flood plains? And don’t get me started on those TV broadcasters during the floods who failed to realise that rivers flowed downstream...

IF Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney is worth £300,000 a week, how much would mercurial players from yesteryear, like the late Sir Tom Finney, be worth today?

Here’s the answer – priceless. Not only are many of today’s millionaire footballers not fit to tie the bootlaces of true greats like Finney, but their stratospheric wages have left them totally divorced from reality.

It was why the tributes to Finney were so poignant. A one-club man throughout his career, he was never booked for foul play or petulance, often caught the bus to his beloved Preston North End’s home games with fans and then trained to be a plumber so he could support his family once his career had come to an end. He was also modest about his war service.

No wonder his loss has been felt so acutely. The death of Finney, the Messi of his generation, was a reminder of when footballers played with honour, dignity and for the love of the game.

ALEX Salmond accuses David Cameron and George Osborne of bullying tactics ahead of the referendum on independence. How ironic. Isn’t this the same Alex Salmond who’s bullying the rest of Britain to enter into a currency arrangement with an independent Scotland?

My answer is simple. Let the whole of Britain decide in a referendum.

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