« Andrew Mitchell on the plight of street children | Main | The world cannot afford US isolationism »


The behaviour of the speaker (not just today) is bad for democracy

This Speaker is clearly not capable of the impartiality required of his role - today's toadying ruling illustrates that very starkly. It is an outrage to say that the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition cannot ask questions on the floor of the House of Commons pertaining to the succession of leadership within the governing party, which by British custom, means that the next leader will automatically become the Prime Minister of this country. This Speaker is also notoriously reluctant to upbraid the Prime Minister for never answering a question put to him or indeed droning on about speculative opposition policies. The only reasonable conclusion is that this Speaker is tainted by inappropriately close relations with his (supposedly) former party. He is not fit for purpose.

It might force Cameron to talk about politics. But that's not his role, is it?

Dear John Hustings - If you can't post pertinent to the issue under consideration or without carping and whining about Cameron, then spare us a few precious moments in our busy lives - and don't post!

The Speaker is quite right. Cameron has increasingly asked questions which are not about the Prime Minister's job.

Are you any relation to Betty, David? Sorry - couldn't resist that one.

He stifled democracy’s best tool: debate. MPs of all parties should be worried - they should let it be known that he does not have faith in him. He should go.

David Boothroyd is a Labour councillor on Westminster City Council.

I suppose a question about who Blair would like to succeed him is about his job in a way. It seems fair tactics on Cameron's part to keep reminding Blair of his imminent departure as it diminishes his stature and authority. And he did talk about the NHS. My only criticism is with his conclusion: top-down targets and bungled reorganisation are not the reason the NHS is in crisis: the real reason is inherent in the whole structure and organisation of the NHS but that is clearly a nettle which he finds too uncomfortable to grasp.

"Dear John Hustings - If you can't post pertinent to the issue under consideration or without carping and whining about Cameron, then spare us a few precious moments in our busy lives - and don't post!"

I think it is pretty pertinent: Cameron consistently avoids "getting involved" in heavy issues, and much prefers petty taunting Blair about internal Labour party wrangles (despite claiming to bring an end to "yah-boo politics" only a year ago). I find PMQ's very tedious now, and I don't think I'm the only one. But then I'm not a politician, and don't find all the Westminster gossiping half as interesting as you probably do.

PMQs is a total waste of time anyway. What exactly does it achieve? I suppose it's about as legitimate for Dave to ask about Labour's succession as Tony to ask about Dave' policies (or lack thereof). To be honest, can we not just have the both of them talk about issues that are pertinent to all of us or are they both content to see the increasing parts of the electorate just continue to disengage or vote for other parties than theirs?

The Speaker was right. I remember Labour MPs being stopped from asking Major about Tory party affairs. Some of course may disagree. However, the real point of this event is that Cameron challenged the Speaker in public - he should know better. Quiet back-channels should have been used if he had a gripe. Equally, there are more important issues to ask about and this just shows the lack of imagination. Cameron tried to show-up Mr Blair and it blew up in his face.

Who cannot but fail to be impressed with Stewart Jackson every times he posts here? The civility, intelligence and good humour of the man just shine out.

I think that's unhelpful Stewart. John Hustings' second post is a perfectly fair complaint about DC's style of questioning.

On Cameron's NHS questions I was much happier when he was challenging Labour on top-down targets and bungled reorganisations than this whole language of cuts. Such tactics only reinforces the big state worldview that the NHS needs more money.

No baiting Mr Jackson either, 'More to the point'. Everyone back to the subject of the thread please.

"PMQs is a total waste of time anyway. What exactly does it achieve?"

PMQs is only as good as the questions - NuLab get away with things because the Opposition fluff their questions. Cameron hardly ever lands a punch and Ming doesn't even take a swing.

While various of you are spending time criticising David Cameron for asking inappropriate or whatever questions, or attempting to, perhaps you would like to cast your minds back (especially the Labour posters among you!), and attempt to recollect that Mr. Blair was the MP who if not actually starting this particular habit of parliamentary tactics, he certainly perfected it AND revelled in it when he waas in opposition!!

Well 5 out of the 6 questions were of substance about an NHS that is crippled by Labours top-down management, and were not being answered - why doesnt Mr Speaker moan about that!

Let's face it - both Cameron and Blair are constantly trying to catch each other out. I'm pretty fed up with it from both of them, and therefore support the speaker's decision today.

I am sorry, but I return to my point earlier about relevance. Hague was superb at PMQs, but led us to a catastrophic defeat. It's all very amusing if Dave makes a good point, but the Great British public don't give a monkeys. The major story about all the opinion polls is that more and more people feel that the whole process and the 2 major parties are irrelevant.

I wonder why Cameron didn't ask about yesterday's debate and its aftermath...

I agree with G-MaN Wild that the Speaker should make Blair answer the questions posed not allow him to read out a list of irrelevant and dubious statistics

He's a lousy Speaker, but I'm with him on this. There's been a dangerous drift towards conflating the government and the Labour Party, a phenomenon which would be more in place in a one-party state. Eg the so-called "Big Conversation" which was presented to the public as a government exercise to gather opinions on policy directions, when it was only intended to help the Labour Party refine its manifesto. There are still questions over the extent to which public resources were misused for that purpose, just as there are questions over the misuse of Short money. It's time to clean up the system, and I don't think Cameron helps that process when he abuses his privileged position as Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition in the Commons to question the Prime Minister not about government policies or actions, but about the future leadership of the Labour Party.

Reading answers that do not answer the question was started by Mrs T. But again the point is missed. The questions have to be in order - the answers are judged by Parliament and the Public. If Parliament does not like the answer they can call back the PM and even sack him. If the public do not like them, they can also boot him out.

Has Dave thought of a Music Hall career?

This from the Press Association:

"Conservative whips were considering today whether to challenge a ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons that David Cameron cannot use Tony Blair's weekly question time to grill the Prime Minister on whether he wants Gordon Brown to succeed him as Labour leader... A senior aide to Mr Cameron later described the ruling as "bizarre and extraordinary" and said the incident had been referred to the opposition whips office. But Conservative sources said it was "unlikely" that an official challenge would be mounted to the Speaker's almost unprecedented ruling."

What on earth is wrong with the question he asked???

Several people above mention the public - yes, I think the public would like to know who Blair thinks the next Prime Minister should be.

It's a reasonable question delivered in a simple and reasonable way, if people in the Conservative Party don't support that and feel the need to constantly swipe Cameron over his performance at PMQ's, than do so.

But to be perefectly honest, its getting rather dull and drab.

"The Speaker was right. I remember Labour MPs being stopped from asking Major about Tory party affairs"

Look at Hansard for the 29th June 1995 in the midst of the Tory leadership contest. Betty Boothroyd certainly didn't stop MPs raising the issue.

"It might force Cameron to talk about politics. But that's not his role, is it?"

John Hustings second post might have been "a perfectly fair complaint about DC's style of questioning." but his first post was not and Stewart Jackson was commenting on that post not the second.
I did not find his first post anything other than a general dig at David Cameron regardless of the topic of the thread. That type of comment will always draw a response from other poster's, and the editor's intervention is surely "tongue in cheek" considering the thread topic?

"Look at Hansard for the 29th June 1995 in the midst of the Tory leadership contest. Betty Boothroyd certainly didn't stop MPs raising the issue."

I have. The difference here shows why Cameron was so weak. The 1995 question is phrased around the idea of the Cabinet's opinions, the PM is responsible for the management of the Cabinet so the question was in order. Sadly, Cameron was unsubtle - the Speaker allowed the last question because it was better phrased. Once again Cameron got it wrong. But the real significance is the way DC tried to raise the issue with the Speaker - this was literally Out Of Order and dare I say lacking is respect.


As the discussion over at PoliticalBetting makes clear, Blair was asked "Do you support Brown as your successor?"

Cameron did not mention the Labour Party. The speaker accepted the "revised" question even though it was identical to the first question!

It was an absurd intervention from the Speaker and he is rightly getting criticised for it.


The October 11 exchange shows how the speaker was warning both leaders about their behaviour:

"Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister has gone on too much about the Conservative party’s campaign document. [Interruption.] Order. I have given the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition some elbow room, and I ask both to take my advice, or sooner or later it will be my instruction."

Were there any back-channel discussions that were ignored by Cameron. Maybe there is more to today than meets the eye. Maybe we are being ungracious about the Speaker. I will repeat again though - even if Speaker Martin was wrong, Cameron should not have questioned him from the dispatch box.

Blimey, Nick Assinder gives Cameron a fair hearing over on the BBC.What's going on?

Gorbals Mick is the worst speaker I can recollect and his inept intervention today spoke volumes about his level of ability.

Cameron's challenge was quite interesting as it goes to the heart of what is PMQs for. If it is for questions to be put only on the government's functioning then it must also be for the PM to anser such questions when put to him and not the usual trotting out of twisted statistics. If Metal Mickey wants to be interventionist then he should start forcing Blair to answer the question asked.

I don't think DC need bother with the Brown question now though as Labour are set on him despite knowing he's going to be a disaster - they can see no alternative

The crucil tactic in the coming few months before Blair leaves office is to convince the public that Brown is not going to be a new broom but more of the same and to paint Brown as part of the Blair years not apart from them.
Cameron seems to be trying to do this and from the polls I think he is doing it sucessfully.

Justin Hinchcliffe is not a Conservative councillor in Tottenham because he managed to get a massive swing against him in the one winnable ward in the constituency. But he does circulate my work without attribution.

This is the second time this year that this speaker has made a controversial ruling I believe earlier in the year he banned David Cameron for asking about something or other, also week in week out he lets Blair not answer questions and allows Blair to go on and on about conservative policy. I remember Speaker's in the past appearing far more impartial. The editor brings up Betty Boothroyd who was pretty good. This bloke is not a patch on her. Is there any formal or informal way of disciplining the speaker? Also I am sure throughout most of Thatcher's and Major's Governments the speaker was from the Labour party and I just assumed convention meant that the speaker came from the opposition party, obviously not. Good old Blair never one to miss an advantage however underhand.

Thomas Hobbes,
If we're quoting October Hansard 11th, lets just look at the next bit. After being warned not to talk about the Conservative policies, Blair followed on immediately:
I am simply explaining why I will not accept the policy on the NHS proposed by the Conservative party. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman is launching this policy proposal because he wants us to accept it, and the reason I will not accept it is that his proposal is for an independent board to take all commissioning decisions and to allocate resources.........
i.e. Blair completely ignored the warning and the Speaker said nothing.


The Speaker was perhaps being overly pedantic, although it is a valid position - there is no law saying that the party leader has to be the Prime Minister and Tony Blair under Labour's constitution has no more votes in the selection of the next Labour leader than any other Labour MP.

It does though seem an odd line of questioning from David Cameron who must realise that Tony Blair isn't going to publicly back any particular person and it doesn't relate to policy in any way, I can't see what useful purpose it serves either in terms of bringing the government to account or even to any furthering of the position of the Conservative Party - it just comes over as silly and trivia, he is asking Tony Blair about what he will do in a contest marking the end of his tenure at which point his part in government will be at an end.

Interesting that this should happen the day after John Hemming (Liberal Democrat MP) lost a case in the High Court attempting to force Tony Blair to give straight answers in the Commons, after the Speaker had earlier fobbed him off.

Kingbongo @ 15.46 said:
"...it goes to the heart of what is PMQs for. If it is for questions to be put only on the government's functioning..."

I feel more and more people are getting turned off by PMQs; I certainly am. I do think it is time for action to be taken to ensure:
i. that Blair answers the question asked (no multiple questions). If he does not, the questioner should be allowed to repeat the question until s/he gets a proper answer.
ii. that, since there is little time to hold the PM to account for his government's performance, all sycophantic (planted) questions from toadying backbenchers should be banned.
Major and Kinnock generally managed to exchange information, rather than cheap jibes.
Rather more grown up behaviour all round would now be welcomed.

Slightly controversial, but would it not be fair to suggest that the quality of PMQs is a reflection of the quality of the modern political elite.

Cameron's conduct would be unworthy of a fifth form debating society. I can't say I'm surprised, though.

We need an end to these attempts to score cheap points. An end to...Punch and Judy politics. Now who said that? Oh yes it was David Cameron wasn't it?

This speaker has never been anything other than politically partisan . He probably does not understand any other way than to use his powers for his own ( labour ) party -it is , mainly or entirely , an English notion from before the Act of Union 1707 that the Speaker should be impartial and as he is Scottish and won't go along with all that stuff any more . Supporting his own party is all that counts and if the Tory's are too slow or dumb to get to grips with Labour's new interpretation of the British constitution and play accordingly dirty - insofar as there is a British constitution -- too bad for them .

Which leads on to EVOEM . One of the major criticisms , among many , of EVOEM is that it would politicise the role of Speaker .
So it would , much more so than at present .
Under the Tory proposals for EVOEM every single topic of discussion brought before the British parliament ( for there is no English one ) would have to examined by the Speaker as to whether or not it is an " English " Bill - in which case only MP's with constituencies in England would be able to vote on it . ( Vote on it , please not , " celtic " Mp's would still be able to debate it ) .
One can foresee that the Speaker would take legal advice on a continual basis - all highly partial - to announce each case - and that the the arguments , special pleading , embitterment and divisiveness will add a whole new dimension to the " British " parliament .

( Easy way out of this mess is that there be an English parliament with same rights and competencies as the Scottish parliament )

- otherwise , get used to the prospect of a real fight over the Speaker and his impartiality / partiality - on a continuing basis .

The Speaker did fluff up his lines when it came to this but I do think he has a point. PMQs is for asking questions relating the the Prime Minister, not the future one, whoever that might be. The Speaker was right to say what he said, even if he mangled his words.

What goes on in the Labour Party goes on in the Labour Party. Whilst it'd be great to use it against them in PMQs its just not fair play doing so. Listening to Radio 5 Live, all I heard was childish arguing. It sounded pathetic and we should be well above this.

Like I said, I'd like to know how Cameron relates this to his pledge to end Punch and Judy politics.

The next leader of the Labour party is a matter for the Labour Party and Blair is as much obliged to show impartiality as was Howard when the party (wrongly in my opinion) chose Cameron.

He's asked the question before, he got some kind of noncommittal reply from Blair, and that should be an end of the matter. What happened today was playground politics at its worst.

But it's certainly a shame that we do not have a more magesterial speaker to deal with this type of abuse of parliament.

The public absolutely hate these knockabout displays. Doesn't Cameron know that?

The speaker was out of order. Simply unbelievable.


Always nice to hear from you.

You make my point perfectly. Blair tried to do the same thing today at the end of the exchange and backed down when the speaker gave him the eye. That's the difference - Cameron challenged the authority of the Speaker in an imappropriate way. Maybe the 1922 Committee should try a vote of no confidence on Speaker Martin if they are so unhappy - but this type of sniping will make Parliament unworkable. It's time to put up or shut up on this one and Cameron needs to make sure the Party does one or the other.

For the record Deborah:

Blair: "The right hon. Gentleman says that staff are protesting about our policy, not his, but that is hardly surprising when we look at what his policy is. [HON. MEMBERS: “Order!”] [Speaker Martin got to his feet and Blair smiled at him] I was just about to indicate why we would not follow it." [Blair yielded to the Speaker]

That's the difference.

I'm not a politician. I have no real interest in politics, but all of you serious politicians posting on this site should listen to me just a little bit. I am a voter. I pay your salaries because I have a paid job and pay my taxes (unlike so many other wasters). The point is simple. Who becomes the next prime minister IS the business of this country and is fair game for PMQ, or ANY other debate for that matter. I suspect I am not alone with the view that it is no longer acceptable that the Prime minister is chosen by the ruling party rather than the people. David Cameron has brought my vote back "into the fold", and probably many more like me. Stop bickering and argue with labour, not each other!

The difference is that Blair seem to get two bites at the cherry before yielding to the Speaker and even get to finish his sentence.
I was just about to indicate why we would not follow it is a comment on Conservative policy not the policy of the Government

Your point is well made but not all poster here are Conservatives as contributions can be anonymous and the site is open access.


Yet he yielded and did it with a smile. Cameron was showed a lack of respect.

The immediate intervention by Martin over Cameron's comments smacks of something prearranged. Martin was clearly anticipating something along the lines of 'Who will Blair back as the next Labour leader' and jumped the gun. The actual question referred to the PM's successor, which can easily be interpreted as successor to the office, and so was just as acceptable as the question Martin was forced to allow.
In other words, he came in prepared to shield Blair. His credibility as speaker continues to struggle to rise above 'zero'.

"Cameron was showed a lack of respect.

Indeed he was.

The BBC indicated the exchange started;
"David Cameron: I know [Tony Blair] doesn't want to talk about the chancellor - he can't even mention his name - but let's just spend a moment on it.
Let me put the question I put to him three weeks ago. Back in January, the prime minister said: 'I'm absolutely happy that Gordon Brown will be my successor.' Now does the prime minister... (interrupted)"

So what rule did he break exactly?
No mention of the Labour party at all.
Was the Speaker anticipating something; that "successor" meant leader of the party rather than Prime Minister?
If so why did he anticipate the end of the question?

The Speaker is quite right to prevent Cameron from asking this irrelevant question, he asks every PMQs. I thought he wanted to end "Punch and Judy" politics. He should have asked more relevant questions about immigration from the new EU countries, how the new stealth green taxes will affect the middle class (as they always do, which todays Notting Hill Tory Party could care less about), and Iraq.

The problem is that Speaker Martin is a Glasgow Socialist who has no idea that he HAS to be impartial. Although his job is made difficult by the fact that according to tradition, it should have been a Tory speaker, thats still no excuse. He simply doesn't get that he can't advocate anymore!!!!!

"...I just assumed convention meant that the speaker came from the opposition party, obviously not."

The convention is (or was) to alternate between the two largest parties. Weatherill was a Tory; Boothroyd was Labour. As Cllr Green notes, it was the Tories' turn, but NuLab as usual had no care for such niceties.

When do the Lib Dems get a go?

John: I gather they get a go if they ever become the Official Opposition. The Liberals (and the Whigs as their predecessors) provided Speakers alternating with the Tories long before Labour even existed.

As long as the incident receives plenty of publicity, it will ensure that people see how desperate Labour's plight has become with Blair and Brown locked into a battle to the political death, and it shows that Freedom Of Speech is under threat even in parliament.

It will be interesting to see if the Murdoch media uses it to attack David Cameron again, as it did yesterday over the Iraq debate.

Murdoch is obviously troubled by Cameron's success which is occurring despite Murdoch's non-involvement. Murdoch is worried. Cameron might have to keep his head down, but must keep the tanks rolling. If the public understand that the Sun and The Times are looking for a way to stop cameron, they might actually support him more. Surely everyone is sick of the media calling the tune.

The speaker didn't emerge from PMQ's with much credibility sadly. It is concerning that Michael Martin was limiting the only power the leader of the opposition has, to ask questions in the House of Commons.

That he ruled questions about who the Prime Minister was backing in the Labour leadership wasn't a government matter but asking the Prime minister who he wants his successor to be was in order will have left most people confused.

To imply that who the next prime minister of this country is can only be a matter of interest to the Labour Party is unacceptable. It is a question of interest to the whole nation, we all have the right to know what the Prime Minister thinks about it. The Speakers unwise decision to prevent the Prime minister having to answer that question is just telling all of us who don't pay a membership subscription to the Labour Party to mind our own business.

It is a question of interest to the whole nation, we all have the right to know what the Prime Minister thinks about it.

The personal opinion of the Prime Minister as to whom he would like to succeed him as Labour leader, however, is not a valid matter for questions in the Commons.

It is quite plain to ll that Cameron harps on this point merely in an attempt at party political point-scoring and that he has no genuine interest in Blair's opinion. His time would have been better spend questioning Blair about the economy or the NHS.

If Cameron now tries to argue it out with the Speaker it doesn't matter who "wins", Cameron will lose credibility. Whatever is alleged, nobody will be able to put this down to Blair.

The public don't like the braying debating society triumphalism on display yesterday. Hague eventually learned that. It seems that Cameron has some considerable way to go before he matches Hagues considerable level of understanding.

This ridiculous row over nothing highlights the total lack of substance and intellectual debate in today's Conservative Party.

The recent death of the great Sir Alfred Sherman reminded the more discerning among us that there is a better way for this party, and in time Cameron and his acolytes may come to see that it is the ONLY way.

Quite right that one has to play Question Time carefully . However , I am not all sure that " the public " is so delicate as to want a totally banalised affair - they like a bit of knock about sometimes . In particular they like to see the government and Blair held to account and put on the spot . That is what it all about .
Someone above said that it was perfectly sensible to ask the PM about his successor - I agree , it is and the public will agree and be impatient of pedantic self serving arguments for the Labour party ( by the Speaker working for the labour party , that is ) to get out from under .

Some of the above commenters still , it would seem , have to get their heads around the fact that the speaker's post was politicised as one of Blair's first acts .
Still harking back to a golden past . Don't . Its gone . Martin is a Labour hack - never been anything else and doesn't intend to be . No matter how much Tory's might try to wish him to play Mr Impartial Speaker , he aint gonna play adn he has only contempt for those who don't see it .

re EVOEM - whatever the pros and cons of this little spat , if EVOEM is instituted , it will make the present argument seem like a summer afternoon . EVOEM is destined to bring about an intensely political role for the Speaker who will be pitched right into the forefront of national ( within the UK ) and party politics -
- the intensity will be immense , continuous and embittering to all concerned .
It is not a good idea .

Whatever is alleged, nobody will be able to put this down to Blair.

Are we sure pressure was not applied from the NuLab to prevent such questions?

This time he has really gone bonkers.... Mr. Martin should consider his position and hopefully immigrate to Scotland, every bone in his body is right wing LABOUR.

I have seen some scenes in the House of Commons in my time. Michael Heseltine wielding The Mace. The great Margaret Thatcher accusing Neil Kinnock of being a "crypto communist". Not to mention the late Robin Cook's resignation speech. But yesterday's charade from the Speaker Michael Martin ranks among them.

Forget Hunt Campaigners and Fathers for Justice stunts. Yesterday was the day that political correctness invaded the House of Commons.

"Puzzled" said Michael Howard.

"Amazing" said Iain Duncan Smith.

"Disgraceful" says yours truly.

So just what is wrong with asking the Prime Minister who he prefers to be his successor? Afterall, it is in the public interest.

"It is Labour Party business" says Mr Speaker.

Well, according to the most recent edition of The Sunday Times, very shortly the Cash for Honours investigation may reach the Prime Minister.

Given that, according to Kelvin Mackenzie, "Lord Levy is said to have told the Met that he was acting under direct orders from Mr Blair" will that be Labour Party business Mr Speaker?

Prime Minister as to whom he would like to succeed him as Labour leader,

Funny when a Prime Minister tells the world he is going to resign on an unspecified date, I do believe the Leader of The Opposition is entitled to ask when and who will be his replacement when normally the deputy succeeds as did Callaghan succeed Wilson

With regard to the cash for honours scandal, if Blair gets called in, itll be a police matter so the easy answer is no, questions shouldnt be allowed.

At least Wilson sprung his departure as a surprise (even if his degree of choice in the matter is debatable). I have vivid memories of being in Downing Street that day, just as the news was announced.

The comments to this entry are closed.



ConHome on Twitter

    follow me on Twitter

    Conservative blogs

    Today's public spending saving

    New on other blogs

    • Receive our daily email
      Enter your details below:

    • Tracker 2
    • Extreme Tracker