Has the Commons become rowdier?

John Rentoul

mt 300x225 Has the Commons become rowdier?Has Prime Minister’s Questions become rowdier? I listened to the audio of PMQs 26 years ago when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and Neil Kinnock leader of the opposition on 17 May 1988 (part one and part two: total 15 minutes in those days – it was twice a week). The picture is from 1990, the year after proceedings were televised.*

It was the first YouTube of an old PMQs I found, so it’s not a scientific comparison. But it is not a bad one, because it was not particularly special. Kinnock asked three questions about the exchange rate and whether she agreed with Nigel Lawson that he didn’t want it to go up too much (she didn’t, but she didn’t say so).

The noise level seems mostly lower than today, and the two party leaders are mostly heard in reasonable quiet. The hubbub before and after is pretty raucous: not much different from today, but none of the MPs seems to be struggling to be heard.

Interestingly, the Speaker, Bernard Weatherill, sometimes says, “Order,” but they seem to ignore him and the MP who is addressing the House simply carries on.

These clips include questions from Michael Heseltine, David Blunkett and Tam Dalyell. The answers are about as informative as Cameron’s today, although the old routine of “I refer the honourable gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago” has been dispensed with, so less time is wasted.

Overall, the session sounds remarkably similar to one of today’s. There is more noise today – and it sounds different partly because there so many women MPs now, producing higher-pitched heckling. But there is not much evidence here for the common assumption that PMQs is significantly more disorderly now than it used to be.

Update: There is a paper on this in Parliamentary Affairs from 2012 by Stephen Bates and others, which compared the first 20 sessions (15 minutes) of Thatcher and Major, and the first 10 sessions (30 minutes) of Blair, Brown and Cameron. It concluded that “PMQs has become both rowdier and increasingly dominated by the main party leaders”.

*The Commons was broadcast on radio from 1978, and on television from 1989.

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  • porkfright

    “In place of Strife” was one thing. Thatcher was entirely another.

  • mightymark

    How different were they?

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