James Forsyth James Forsyth

John Bercow’s problem with PMQs

John Bercow doesn’t like Prime Minister’s Questions. He’s told the BBC in an interview that it is ‘so bad’—in other words, rowdy—that a bunch of female MPs no longer attend.

PMQs is becoming particularly partisan with the approach of the election. Miliband has abandoned his attempts to change it just as quickly as Cameron did before him. But Bercow would do well to look closely at his own role in setting the tone of these sessions.

From the chair, Bercow understandably tries to silence the hecklers. But, sometimes, he seems to be indulging in a bit of ‘Punch and Judy’ too. Often he moves into put-down mode, trying to get the House to laugh at the offender. Or, and I think this is much worse, he unhelpfully warns the House against groaning when certain MPs rise to ask a question—as he did with Tim Farron recently. This has, the predictable effect, of encouraging MPs to groan even more loudly the next time this MPs gets up.

If Bercow wants to change the tone of PMQs, he should start by changing the way that he chairs it.

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