FMQs is back. Oh yes it is.
- 8 January 2013
- From the section Wales
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the opposition parties have had enough. First Minister's Questions isn't worth the order paper it's written on. Or that, at least, is the view of all three opposition party leaders.
For too long, they say, they've turned up to First Minister's Questions on a Tuesday and left with - wait for it - no answers. They've turned up with "relevant" and "salient" questions and left with a First Minister who hasn't even attempted to answer them. In fact, FMQs has become a pantomime.
Before you jump in with 'oh no it's not' or 'but pantomime's FUN' - read on.
It kicked off at Plaid Cymru's weekly press conference, the first of the new year. Leanne Wood saw little to celebrate. The Welsh government claims to stand up for Wales, she said, to act as a shield but shies away from real action.
She went on the attack, a mode many of those who cast her as leader last year rather like. In fact they'd hoped to see a bit more of it - during First Minister's Questions for instance.
So, she was asked, why had she failed to land many punches on Mr Jones when the chance is there?
Because the weekly opportunity to hold the First Minister and his government to account has become "a bit of a farcical pantomime space", she said. Not only does it fail to engage the people of Wales. Apparently - and even more problematically - it fails to engage the First Minister himself. Questions are put in good faith. Does he answer them? Oh no he doesn't.
Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams agreed. Privately her political opponents reckon she comes up with half decent questions. Publicly she seems to elicit the most dismissive First Ministerial swipes. Her take was straightforward: the First Minister rarely even attempts to answer what he's asked.
Ask some mischievous Labour backbenchers and they just might tell you he doesn't answer questions planted amongst them ... but back to another scene, the Conservative press briefing.
Not only had the Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies had enough. He'd had enough in November of last year. He wrote back then to the Presiding Officer asking her to set up a root and branch review of the Assembly's procedures and how its engagement with the public might be improved.
No wonder, he wrote, that no more than two hundred or so people regularly tune into the BBC iPlayer to watch FMQs. Even less surprising that "these views last an average of five minutes each". It wasn't his place to criticise the Presiding Officer he stressed but things were "too cosy". It wouldn't happen in Westminster. It doesn't happen in Holyrood. Something has to be done. All AMs must look to themselves.
Does it matter that FMQs rarely leads to contributions that make headlines, make great political capital, land punches, create trouble, make and break political careers, stop you in your tracks? Forgive the leading question. You know where I stand. Join the chorus or shout me down.
The principal boy/pantomime villain, take your pick, has not gone up in sulphurous smoke. Instead a government source goes for astonishment:
"This is preposterous. It's akin to a football team complaining that the other side won't let them score any goals.
"If any Opposition Leader is unhappy about how he or she performs each week at First Minister's Questions, then that is entirely a matter for them.
"It is clear however, the people of Wales deserve more effective political opposition in the Assembly, than exists at present."
In other words, if you want better answers, ask better questions.
And finally, what of the perception - a handy word that - laid out in this morning's Western Mail that the people of Wales deserve a more effective government, that the cabinet is about to be reshuffled?
Not yet, I gather. Is it fair to give a minister less than two years to do the job? I'm told that in the First Minister's view, oh no it isn't.
Over to you for some audience participation.