Well, that's the usual refrain of Commons Speaker John Bercow as things get a little loud at Prime Minister's Question Time. I have spoken before (here) about the fact that I like it when PMQs gets lively and think that the pressure, or otherwise, put on MPs in a good thing.
I cannot remember a week when Speaker Bercow hasn't stopped the flow of an arguement, and even on some occassions silence our Prime Minister, to repeat his charge that the public doesn't like the noise and bustle of the questioning. I know that Speaker Bercow was elected on a reforming platform and much that he has done I personally approve of, such as increased use of Urgent Questions, but his attitude and behaviour at PMQs does worry me. And what worries me more is that he uses "the public" as a method backing up his own views.
At the end of my previous post, I asked the question "who are these public that tell Speaker Bercow they want a santised PMQs" and it has played on my mind ever since. So I ended up putting in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request asking the Speaker exactly how many memebrs of the public have complained about the behaviour of MPs at PMQs.
After all, to change the whole tone of PMQs must suggest massive public fury; members of the public firing off angry letters and emails to vent their fury that MPs should ask reasonable questions in reasonable ways and recieve them in utter silence. They demand, these public, that the Speaker acts as a teacher would, insisting on decorum and threatening any MP, including the Prime Minister and both frontbenches with detention unless they play ball. He should even pick out a few and make jibes at them in order to control the commons.
So my FOI request asked how many pieces of communication (letter, phone call or email) the Speaker had recieved complaining about behaviour at PMQs. Go on, take a guess.
Well the answer may surprise you. The Speakers office only hold communications for sixth months, but in the half year until 22 July there were ...
... ready for it ...
... 36 ...
... yes, thirty six.
36 members of the public have complained about the standard of behaviour at PMQs in six months.
I am amazed that our bossy, overbearing Speaker has the cheek to call forth public opinion on this matter when less than half of one percent of one average constituency in the UK has registered a complaint.
That's fewer people than complain about your average Eastenders storyline and even fewer than most e-petitions, no matter how obscure the topic, gather.
And how many people have written to complain about the Speaker's constant interruption? Well apparently they are working on that figure for me as I blog. I am sure it'll be less than 36 but it shows how few people really, actually care enough about an issue to take up pen, keyboard or telephone and do something about it.
So let's hear slightly less about how the public dislike the format of PMQs, Mr Speaker, because at best the public haven't spoken yet on the issue.