David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions last Wednesday. Photo: AFP
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Mumsnet petitions to overhaul PMQs

More than 46,000 signatures and counting.

A petition launched by Mumsnet to overhaul PMQs has almost reached its 50,000 target in less than a week.

Justine Roberts, chief executive and founder of Mumsnet, created the petition after a survey of 1,200 members of the online forum revealed the level of disaffection British mothers feel with politics.

In a damning indictment of Westminster culture, when asked which characteristics would be advantageous in politics, 94 per cent of respondents said ambition, 92 per cent cited social connections, 86 per cent said ruthlessness, 84 per cent said being well-off, and 78 per cent said being male.

Nine out of ten Mumsnetters said they feel that the political culture in SW1 is sexist, while two thirds believe success in politics is all down to what school or university you went to and the "old boys' network".

Nearly two-thirds of respondents on the parenting site, which is 97 per cent female, thought that more women in top political jobs would mean politicians had a great understanding of their concerns.

Eight out of 10 do not believe that MPs conduct themselves well or that PMQs is effective. More than three quarters think it is “unprofessional and outdated”, while half think the weekly 30-minute session damages the reputation of Parliament.

The online petition at describes PMQs as “one of the biggest turn-offs”. The petition states:

The Hansard Society have proposed a new kind of politics: a new, engaging way to conduct PMQs which can help rebuild trust in politics and politicians. This could include introducing rapid-fire Q&As, more open questions, taking questions directly from voters via social media, and penalties for MPs who behave badly... Join me in calling on David Cameron to pilot changes to PMQs along the lines proposed by the Hansard Society - before the next election.

It has received more than 46,000 signatures in less than a week, almost half the 100,000 needed for a petition to be formally considered for debate in the House of Commons.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.


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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.