What is Prime Minister’s Questions? PMQs explained

What are Prime Minister’s Questions and why is everyone bobbing up and down?


What are the Prime Minister’s Questions?

PMQs are held every Wednesday for half an hour. It is the opportunity for MPs to put questions to the Prime Minister and to hold the government to account over their actions. MPs use PMQs to ask questions about national issues and often use it as an opportunity to mention issues affecting their constituency.


How Do You Ask A Question?

Prime Minister David Cameron at the dispatch box, taking Prime Minister's Questions

David Cameron takes Prime Minister’s Questions Via BBC Parliament

MPs wishing to ask a question must enter it into a ballot system.

Entries are selected at random and put at random onto the Order Paper which the Speaker of the House calls out. The question is asked; the Prime Minister gives an answer.

Tradition dictates that PMQs starts with a question about the Prime Minister’s engagements. This is called Question Number One.



British House of Commons Order paper for Prime Minister's questions

Order of the day: the Order Paper lists who asks Prime Minister’s Questions

The Prime Minister will usually reply;

“This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.”

The first MP to ask a question will ask “Question Number One” then follow that with their own query.

This question is usually followed by the leader of the opposition. The opposition leader (currently Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party) is allowed six questions in total. The opposition leader is the only person allowed to come back with further questions.

Those not selected for the Order Paper can attempt to “catch the eye” of the speaker to ask an extra question. This is achieved by standing and sitting immediately before the Prime Minister makes his answer. This is known as “bobbing”. There was us thinking they’d just had an electric shock.



Is Prime Minister’s Questions out of touch?

The format of Prime Minister’s Questions has changed over the years. In 1881 a time-limit for questions was set. Then in 1961 PMQs were made permanent as two 15 minute slots on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister he changed the format again to the 30 minute slot on a Wednesday which we have today.

Prime Minister’ Questions has been criticised as being childish. MPs from both sides cheer their leaders and bray at the opposing side. The Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition usually trade thinly veiled insults.

The speaker of the House John Bercow has called PMQs “embarrassing”. The “histrionics and cacophony of noise” meant several MPs had said they would not attend Prime Minister’s Questions.

In the past the behaviour was much more civilised. In a speech to the House John Bercow notes that “while exchanges could be lively, contemporary accounts do not record them being remotely raucous.” Former speaker Selwyn Lloyd blamed the rise in bad behaviour personal animosity between Harold Wilson and Edward Heath.

New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has promised to change Prime Minister’s questions. He wants it to be less “theatrical” and for a real debate to take place.

For all the latest on PMQs and UK parliament sign up to our weekly news roundup, THE WEEK: DECODED Follow @Scenesofreason and like us on Facebook.

Six Ways Wimbledon Is Just Like Politics

Wimbledon; It’s that time of year again.

Love tennis or not everyone loves the excuse to sit in the sun and drink Pimms*. But did you know Wimbledon is actually just like British Politics?

*other gin based drinks are available  😉


1) Backwards and Forwards

Cats watch the tennis wimbledon on television looking backwards and forth

Danger; watching Wimbledon may lead to hypnosis

This way. That way. Forwards and backwards. Watch Wimbledon coverage and you’ll see the spectators swinging their heads from side to side following the balls.

Watching the TV election debates or live streams from parliament it can seem a little similar. Politicians bounce ideas and arguments backwards and forth across the House of Commons chamber.

And then the next day they do it all over again.

And again.


2) There can only be one winner

Sorry, Ed Miliband.

Ed Miliband's defeat face. A little like reaching the semi-final of Wimbledon and crashing out.

Oh, Ed.

Tim Henman, our thoughts are also with you.


3) Most of the work is done behind the scenes

When Andy Murray walks onto centre court at Wimbledon we see a superhuman athlete taking on overwhelming odds and winning (most of the time). What we don’t see are the months of training regimes, diets, sacrifice and general pain that leads to the winning.

Wimbledon ball boy catches the ball after it is hit by a player

Smooth moves.

It’s just the same in politics. Most MPs spend a few years working their way up from the bottom before making any headway. Proposed new laws like the Snooper’s Charter spend months being researched and written up before another party (in this case the Liberal Democrats) blocked it. But now the Conservatives are back in power, the Snooper’s Charter is back on the agenda.

Just like Civil Servants (who help MPs with work but are not linked to a specific party) Ball Boys and Girls are expected to help play run as smoothly as possible, whilst staying out of the limelight.


4) Shooting your mouth off will get you into trouble

Wimbledon player Andy Murray gets angry


“You cannot be serious!” was John McEnroe’s famous cry of outrage. Just like Tennis political debates can get… heated.

More recently Andy Murray got into trouble after the BBC was forced to apologise for his swearing. For politicians something as simple as a tweet can get you into hot water. Less than 140 characters were enough to cost Emily Thornberry her job in the shadow cabinet. #Fail


5) Tradition is everything

Strawberries; a Wimbledon classic

Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberries and Cream. Pimms and Lemonade. Wimbledon is steeped in tradition. The reason players always wear white at Wimbledon and not at other tennis tournaments? Tradition, that’s why.

You’d expect nothing less from the oldest Tennis tournament in the world.

British politics is also known for its old-fashioned approach. In the House of Commons chamber MPs are actually not allowed to speak to one another directly. They refer to each other as “The Right Honourable Gentleman or Lady” and can only speak to The Speaker.

MPs are also not allowed to accuse another MP of lying whilst in the House. At Wimbledon clapping is only allowed after a point is won; total silence is supposed to be respected whilst a point is played. In Parliament clapping is not allowed at all; as some SNP MPs found out.

Queueing for tickets is another Wimbledon staple. Many tennis fans wait from 5AM in order to secure day tickets. Wimbledon top tip; if you have to queue, send a parent whilst you have a lie in.

The number one Wimbledon tradition; rain

Yay, British Weather!

Parliament is no different; there are not enough seats for all 650 MPs. This major fail means that MPs have to reserve their seats early in the morning. Tradition dictates that certain older MPs should get first dibs. However, as the SNP showed Labour recently, rules are meant to be broken.

In fact most of the things we take for granted in British politics are actually just tradition, not written in law. This is because we don’t actually have a written constitution; an ultimate law for the country.



6) It can be brutal.

Ed Miliband's reaction to crashing out of politics like Tim Henman out of Wimbledon

Oh, Ed.

One minute you’re riding high; with victory within your grasp. And then suddenly it’s all over. You’re lying in the dust, not quite sure how it happened. And just like that your journey is over.

Sorry, Ed Miliband. Again.

Just like in Wimbledon, setbacks can come out of no-where. An unexpected fall for a tennis player could lead to an injury. And depending on the luck of the draw you can find yourself up against friend and family.

The Williams sisters Serena and Venus have battled it out in 25 matches. Serena has the edge, having beat Venus 14 times.

Two siblings fighting it out for the top spot knowing that only one of them could win? Is it just us or does this sound a bit like when Ed Miliband beat his brother David to the Labour Leadership?

Ed Miliband and David Miliband in "The Wrong Miliband". They were up against each other a bit like the Williams siblings at Wimbledon

Oh, Ed.

Sorry, David Miliband.


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