Punch and Judy Never Really Left PMQs

The headline on the BBC News site was about air pollution reaching new levels, and I did wonder for a moment if this wasn't an appositely titled heading to a report about today's Prime Minister's Questions, which seemed to be a particularly hopeless round of personal abuse even by current standards.

If we get the politicians we deserve then we should be genuinely concerned about the state of the body politic in the UK.  Not so much because of sex scandals or expenses shenanigans - though these things hardly encourage us in our attitude to our would-be masters - but because of the dismal calibre of our political leaders.  At least, if Prime Minister's Questions is anything to go by.  No-one expects this weekly parliamentary jousting to be a masterclass in political education - although it would be no bad thing if that were an appropriate expectation - but neither should the most regularly broadcast piece of parliamentary theatre be such a depressing collapse into unimaginative and uninformative playground name-calling.  One of the key participants holds the highest office in the land, and the other aspires to it.  You might reasonably expect some sense of gravitas, or dignity, from each man.  And yet Cameron and Miliband both perform appallingly badly at their weekly verbal battles.

Whatever the virtues of each leader - and their own parties interestingly remain distinctly divided on these - they have manifestly failed to reach anything approaching an admirable standard at the despatch box.  Cameron is a poor advert for Eton's debating tradition, as he stands shouting at his opponent, mock indignation and a constantly high volume his only verbal props; primary school level insults his stock-in-trade.  Miliband, meanwhile, responds in kind, laboriously shoe-horning his own carefully learned insult (today it was "not so much the Wolf of Wall Street as the Dunce of Downing Street") into his monotonously outraged attacks.

It isn't just the lack of any substantive political debate that so depresses.  If either man had a scintilla of genuine wit, or a slight appreciation of voice modulation, we might have a better impression of the farrago of nonsense that they bombard us with every week.  This is their showpiece, every week, to the British public, the public that elects them.  They are hopeless and inadequate representatives of their craft, but the real tragedy is that we so signally fail to bring them to book for their uselessness at the ballot box.  Perhaps it's because we're offered such a mean choice in the first place.



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