Tuned in or Turned off? Public attitudes to Prime Minister’s Questions, a new research report from the Hansard Society published today examines public attitudes to Prime Minister’s Questions and asks whether PMQs is a ‘cue’ for their wider negative perceptions of Parliament.
PMQs is the best known aspect of Parliament’s work, famous throughout the world for its combative, adversarial atmosphere. It is the bit of Parliament’s work that the public are most aware of and have likely seen on the television news. But while politicians and journalists have strong views about the value of PMQs, there is a scarcity of substantive evidence as to the public’s opinions.
Our focus group evidence indicates that heightened awareness of PMQs should not be mistaken for approval – the most common words associated with it are ‘noisy’, ‘childish’, ‘over the top’ and ‘pointless’.
Supporters of PMQs in its current form argue that it is great parliamentary drama, envied by citizens in other countries whose leaders are rarely held to account in public. But our focus group research shows that the drama and theatre of the event is not appreciated in a positive way. In the dismissive words of one participant, ‘this was noise and bluster and showing off – theatrical but not good’.
Tuned in or Turned off? Public attitudes to Prime Minister’s Questions tested the focus group findings as part of our annual Audit of Political Engagement polling. Key results are:
Dr Ruth Fox, Director and Head of Research at the Hansard Society and co-author of the report commented:
‘PMQs is a cue for the public’s wider perceptions of Parliament. It provides a lot of the raw material that feeds their negative assumptions about politicians. The public think the conduct of MPs is childish and wouldn’t be tolerated in other work places. They think politicians are simply not taking the issues that affect their lives seriously enough.
As Parliament’s ‘shop window’, it portrays a damaging and misleading impression of what happens at Westminster because the public think that what happens at PMQs is how Parliament works all the time. Reform is overdue if PMQs is to move from being an inward-looking and self-referential event towards its proper role of scrutiny and accountability.’
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