Wednesday Lunchtime Drama

Little in an MPs duties get the pulses racing like a question at the Wednesday lunchtime dogfight that is Prime Ministers Questions (PMQ’s).

And whilst the big story from PMQ’s is generally the leaders exchanges, the chance that your question could explode upon the national consciousness competes with the potential that you could freeze in front of the eyes of the nation, and an unforgiving House.

Whilst many tut at the ‘Punch and Judy’ nature of the exchanges, it undeniably makes for better television than the earnest but less combative debates that make up much of the parliamentary week. It’s theoretical purpose being to ensure that the Prime Minister has a sound understanding of their own policies.

There is a great deal I would like to quiz the PM on at the moment. The ‘omnishambolic’ budget had unravelled in the days leading up to the session, the Leveson enquiry was on a daily basis revealing further depths to which he’d sunk to curry favours with the Murdoch press, the fall in College and University rolls due to the cost of education and the numbers of young people unemployed- a national disgrace.

It was therefore with a range of emotions coursing through me that I rose to my full height at 12.20 last week to address a question to the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Every week around 400 MPs complete a simple form to request the opportunity to question the PM. A week before, 15 are selected at random by the computer. In the past year I had spoken on 60 different occasions in the House of Commons, but only once in PMQs.

Regardless of whose name comes up, the Speaker will call a Member from each side alternately. So when, as happened this week, 11 Conservatives and only 4 opposition members are drawn, MPs know there will a minimum of six ‘blind’ spots that the speaker will select on the spur of the moment and it was one of these that I hoped to secure.

Prime Ministers have no idea what questions they will be asked and have a matter of seconds to work out what their response will be. Likewise, I had no idea whether or not I’d be called.

But I knew what I would ask if I was given the chance. The most recent independent NHS survey had shown the largest ever fall in patient satisfaction in history. Just a fortnight ago I spent a whole day at Chesterfield Royal hearing from managers, staff and patients about their experiences. The commitment of staff couldn’t be questioned, but nor could the sense that the NHS is undergoing an unnecessary re-organisation at a time when the pressures on it have never been greater.

Fifteen seconds after rising, I was seated again. The anger and concern about the NHS was clear but so was the PM’s response, I was reading the wrong survey, he had a better one. Who was right? That is one question that only the voters can answer.

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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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