Politics.co.uk Blog

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A beginner's guide to PMQs

Here's a guest post from Hannah Brenton:


It will come as no surprise that watching prime minister's questions in person is quite a different experience from watching it on television.

While the camera's natural focus remains on whoever is speaking, it misses many of the more magical moments that make prime minister's questions such a gladiatorial contest between the parties – and the sparks of backbench humour that litter the repartee.

The flow of 'political theatre' is easier to appreciate. Instead of seeing the image on the screen cut between prime minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband, it's possible to read the body language of both men as they either angrily jump up to retort the other's point or casually lean against the despatch box in a sign of languid contempt.

Without the constraint of the camera angle, you can take in the entire panorama of the chamber and read the reactions across the backbenches.

As Mike Gapes spoke of the need to increase the number of allotment places available, one of his Labour colleagues laughed and began rubbing his belly.

The din from the benches is louder than it appears on the screen – and the noisy bellows of one MP seem to grow amorphously into a general chorus of jeers or cheers.

While it is clear on television that the Labour frontbench are heckling the prime minister, it is much more apparent from within the chamber the number of side retorts and continuous back-and-forth that takes place across the frontbench.

Today, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper persistently spoke over the prime minister's responses, which clearly grated on Cameron.

The camera's blind spot is the smaller reactions that create the humour and tension of the occasion - something the large number of sketch-writers and lobby journalists inside the chamber know very well.

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