SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


PMQs? Labour questions are never answered, give me Fiona Bruce every time

OLD BOOBY: Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle

Prime Minister’s Questions is getting ever more like a cross between a fixed featherweight boxing match and a poor comedy routine. It was designed to inform, instead it irritates. The tamest questions put to the Prime Minister by his own side and those asked by the Labour leader never answered.


Part of the problem is the rule that the resident of No10 is briefed on the questions to be asked, so allowing him (or her) to prevaricate, vacillate, diffuse, or in the case of Boris Johnson, just lie. The latest PMQs was a classic of its kind with Rishi Sunak ‘answering’ each of Keir Starmer’s questions with a prepared onslaught on the opposition. It adds nothing to the sum of knowledge and simply bores.


The answer is of course that the incumbent should have no prior peek at what is to be asked; that way we would have an honest and probably rather entertaining session. And we might even learn something. As it is, it’s like watching a well rehearsed side show that has little bearing on proper politics.


By contrast, BBC1’s Question Time is much more the real deal. Panellists are not told the topics in advance though obviously they can guess what is bothering the audience on any given week. Thus it was that when Laura Trott, the poor sap put up by Tory Central Office, did her best to babble on about immigration numbers, fellow panellist Theo Paphitis listened to her with his head in his hand before letting her have both barrels. At least it was real, all too much so for Ms Trott.


The other benefit of QT over PMQs is that it is chaired by the brilliant Fiona Bruce and not that old booby Lindsay Hoyle. She controls events without threatening miscreants they’ll be sent out of the chamber for an early cup of tea.


Incidentally, and I hesitate to bring up the subject of the sinister Suella (but of course I will), her advocate Tenerife Tel appears to defend her by listing all that is wrong with this country —  ‘homeless and hungry British kids, hospital waiting lists growing, schools overcrowded, government borrowing at a record level and food banks running out of cornflakes.’


Just asking Tel, but who has been running the country for the last 13 years?  


Christopher Wilson could not have been more modest when reporting here on the 40th Philip Geddes Memorial Lecture by Huw Edwards. What Wislon didn’t say was that without his own sheer hard work and determination the Geddes Trust would never even have reached its first anniversary.

As many of us remember all too well, Philip was killed by an IRA bomb at Harrods on December 17, 1983. I was features editor at the time and Christopher was Philip’s boss as Hickey editor. The murder of a talented and enthusiastic young reporter, not long down from St Edmund Hall, Oxford was an outrage even by the appalling lows of the time.

Seared in the memories of those of us who flew to Barrow-in-Furness on a freezing January day was the grief of Philip’s parents. He was their only child and their sadness was matched only by their overwhelming pride.

Wislon was determined that Philip would never be forgotten; his legacy would be a journalism prize for young graduates to be awarded each year and with a ‘prize day’ speech by a distinguished journalist. He has worked tirelessly to achieve that end and winners have gone into all strands of the media (perhaps not the Daily Star). They include Samira Ahmed and Lucy Manning who both became well known BBC correspondents. Memorial lecturers have been a distinguished bunch: Jon Snow, Jeremy Paxman, Ian Hislop and Laura Kuenssberg among them. 

So take a bow Wislon. And memo to St Edmund Hall: How about an honorary doctorate for our chum? It would be richly deserved.

*Incidentally the journey to Barrow was by a small private prop plane chartered from Gatwick and landing on the Vickers airstrip running down to the grim-looking Irish Sea. For some reason I was riding shotgun next to the pilot, from memory a rather gung-ho Frenchman. When we touched down at Vickers in ghastly wintry conditions the only thing I was aware of was how rapidly the sea was approaching. We avoided a dipping by a matter of yards, possibly more like inches.

The flight back was less eventful, no doubt helped by alcohol which some thoughtful colleague had made sure was stored on board.