John Nicolson MP: Questions but no answers!

John Nicolson MP
John Nicolson MP

I wonder if you enjoy watching Prime Minister’s Questions? People have mixed views about it. Some tell me they’re shocked by the screaming and squawking.

Essentially it’s panto. In the 20 minutes before it kicks off MPs are restive, like excited school kids waiting for the curtain to rise. The Speaker doesn’t even try to calm them.

The Prime Minister arrives in a sharp suit, make up freshly applied, and squeezes in beside his human auto-prompt George Osborne. Tory MPs cheer.

Then out comes poor old Jeremy Corbyn in a crumpled jacket, pockets bulging, looking like an elderly comprehensive school geography teacher forced out of retirement and asked to confront a group of sneering English public school boys.

Behind him sit ranks of sullen Labour MPs, many apparently enjoying every moment of his weekly 
torment.

I think Jeremy Corbyn is a decent man. I also think Labour MPs treat him disgracefully. But they know he’s not going to lead them to victory. The only cheers which greet Jeremy Corbyn are ironic Tory ones.

I sit on the SNP front bench facing the Tories. I know many of them from my days as a journalist. Of course then they were on their very best behaviour. Now I often see them at their worst, baying and pointing, eyes bulging with faux indignation. When they laugh, which they do for every pun and tortuous, rehearsed Prime Ministerial joke, it’s as if they’re intent on doing themselves an injury. I asked one MP whether he really was as overcome with paralysing laughter as he appeared.

He suddenly looked a bit sheepish. And I sensed I’d broken an unspoken taboo.

Whatever the absurdities, Prime Minister’s Questions do afford an opportunity to focus attention on sometimes neglected issues.

I’m writing this having just come back from the Chamber where I asked the Prime Minister a question. I recently attended a Work and Pensions tribunal hearing with a constituent who, despite having dwarfism and being unable to climb stairs except on all fours was awarded zero disability points. I wanted to know whether, as a constituency MP the Prime Minister had ever been to a tribunal himself and, if so, whether he’d found the process dignified, fair and compassionate.

It became clear the Prime Minister had never been to a tribunal and he muttered some platitudes about looking at the case. But this really misses the point.

My constituent’s experience was not a departure from the norm but illustrative of it. That’s why more than half of all Work and Pensions decisions on disability are now overruled on appeal.

The new system is cruel and it’s not working. The Prime Minister knows this. For once his backbenchers stopped cheering.