Punch and Judy Politics

Recently, I promised a post about books that got rave reviews from everyone but me.  And in the end, I haven’t done it.  It turned out there weren’t so many after all.

So instead, I’m going to tell you about a book which I enjoyed, hugely, even though it’s about politics, which I don’t enjoy hugely (Does anybody, anywhere at the moment?).  This is a thoroughly out-of-character read for me.

It’s  Punch and Judy Politics, by Ayesha Hazarika and Tom Hamilton.  And it’s about Prime Ministers’ Question time, that peculiarly British institution when once a week on Wednesdays, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition face one another across a crowded chamber, filled with heckling, shouting, cheering and far-from-silent MPs.

I was drawn in from the first sentences.‘ You’re the Leader of the Opposition. it’s your job to choose one of the week’s top political news stories and write six questions to the Prime Minister about it. Not exam questions, not questions you might ask an expert, but awkward, hostile questions that will put the Prime Minister on the back foot ….’.

I was immediately interested. This book describes how PMQs play a defining role in British politics. This once-a-week contest between Prime Minister and Opposite Number forces each of the pair not only to prepare well, backed by a team of advisers, but to examine their own policies, and understand where and why they might be weak. Preparing to spar with their opponent, undermining them with clever questions, a wounding joke, an unreturnable rejoinder is an important and time-consuming part of their routine. Some participants have performed well – even extremely well: William Hague, David Cameron and Tony Blair generally rose well to the occasion. Others did not. Ian Duncan Smith never shone, and the current sparring partners, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn bring no spark to the event.

Understanding more of this weekly show, and its purpose in building or destroying morale among the troops (the MPs), in providing fodder for the press, and in fine tuning policy has been illuminating.

It’s a thorough, informative and funny account of this peculiarly British institution. Of course I read it enthusiastically: one of the authors, Tom Hamilton, is my son.

Theresa May at PMQs: BBC image


Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

23 thoughts on “Punch and Judy Politics”

  1. This is truly a nice and very relevant British tradition to be preserved and cultivated because freedom is not a gift. But I am wondering how the British PM’S and Government manage a country on such uncomfortable seats and narrow benches. During my former job I always had more space and modern office equipment of course. Otherwise I would have gone on a 😎 cool strike. Nice weekend! @ Ulli

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They don’t look great, do they? Worse though is the way in which government and opposition sit facing one another in such an adversarial manner. I’m sure it emphasises conflict rather than cooperation.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much Margaret. I always slightly wondered if this ‘thing’ was real or made up by the country’s ‘fun-makers’…. 😉
    Now I know and I think I too would have read that book even though I must be even less enthusiastic about politics than you are. And I don’t have a Tom Hamilton writer/journalist son…. What a great discovery!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a fascinating and thoroughly British tradition that nobody with any sense is going to emulate elsewhere. Far too much like hard work! And your Great Leader would be hopeless at it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I would think it’s much more fun writing about a book that you like than one you don’t. Unless of course you have one quick and funny put down, like a PM’s question.


  4. You are so right about PMQs. We have the same at the County Council. The trick is never to ask a question to which you don’t know the answer so you can administer the coup de grace in the supplementary!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And it seems some can do it, like William Hague, and others can’t. Like the present incumbents. But then, what CAN they do well?


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