“The Minister for Children is under no obligation to behave like a child.”
This statement sums up this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions (04/05/2011). The Speaker was criticising a government minister for his behaviour, but silliness is hardly unusual in Westminster. The Speaker has tried to improve the image of the House of Commons by clamping down on this kind of conduct, but there is clearly still plenty of work to do.
If people are disenfranchised by British politics, it is easy to see why. MPs, talking about important matters, are hard to take seriously when they are drowned out by jeering and mockery. The situation has been the same for years, and does not reflect well on British politics, or many of the MPs we elect.
David Cameron, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, said that he wanted to end the ‘Punch and Judy politics’ of Parliament, but seems to have given up on this pledge. This afternoon he referenced Benny Hill in answer to a question. This was cheered by his backbenchers, but isn’t the kind of answer expected from a head of government.
So, what can be done to tone down the childishness of British political debate? Politicians are meant to argue, and are supposed to take difficult decisions and be criticised for them. They are not, however, required to behave like children, or to reference make Benny Hill jokes from the despatch box. Recognising this simple difference is probably the first step towards a more sensible parliament, and less cringe-worthy politics.