PMQs should be held twice a week

Two rounds of PMQs a week would increase accountability

The shadow leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, has suggested that Prime Minister's Questions should be moved to Thursday evenings to allow more people to watch it.

The "bicycling baronet" has a point. How many people, other than political journalists, can take half an hour out of their day to watch PMQs on a Wednesday? It's also a smart way to ensure MPs don't hurry back to their constituencies early on Thursday.

But if MPs really want to increase scrutiny of the executive they should return to having two 15-minute sessions a week rather than the one half-hour session introduced by Tony Blair in 1997.

As my former PoliticsHome colleague Nick Assinder has argued, the move to one weekly session limited accountability by ensuring that anything that happened after Wednesday couldn't be raised in the chamber for a week. Reintroducing the shorter sessions would also allow less time for questions planted by the whips.

Gordon Brown should steal a march on Cameron and introduce this reform before Young's proposals are taken up by the Tory leader.


Sign up to the New Statesman newsletter and receive weekly updates from the team

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.