FMQs is back. Oh yes it is.


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.

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    #16 Boxer
    Don't expect a comment on your second paragraph. Opinions on the aggressive bilingualism policy of this present WAG are not permitted on this blog.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    5 Alf I seem to recall that we told devolution would bring a different kind of politics. Devolution is to blame, we have too many AMs'. 30 is more than enough. Visit the Assembley and you would be horrified at the lack of thought/action by most AM's. We have a silly voting system that allows third rate polticians to become AM's. Solution? reduce number of AM's and go to 1st past the post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I agree with you that the return of soup kitchens (or food boxes) is a disgrace in the C21; and, yes it embarrases me. I merely point out that your repeated mentions do not always follow the thread.

    Now, having answered your point, how about mine? Do you agree with Ms Huws that it is more important that a swimming bath attendant in Cardiff speaks Welsh than is able to swim ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    ... alf, the "We" in your "We don't need them now", you need to modify that to "We" minus quite a few who see the Assembly as division 2, re-read Betsan above ...

    I need Westminster ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Now then Boxer. I take your point. Though as you mention foodboxes. Something you would like swept under the carpet perhaps is it. A likely embarasement to you also. Well it should be. Sanity. I agree with you about those Westminster Politicians. We don't need them now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    much ridiculed, rightly or wrongly, also well known as "flunkeys, mandarins and queens"

    a very expensive waste of time and public money.

    "attendees" are still paid for the duration of the pantomine

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    #10 You realise, Alf, that if your requirement for sticking to the title of BP's article was applied universally, an awful lot of your posts wouldn't have made it.
    Your 'What about the foodparcels ? ' is the Delenda est Carthago ! of our site.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    'This is relevent to the Firet minister Questions, how?'
    It isn't. It is , however, the most important constitutional issue that arose over BP's vacation. As the BBC Political Editor, I would value her opinion.
    As I would value yours. Do you favour Welsh medium education for all ? Do you favour positive discrimination for Welsh speakers in public posts ? And in large private firms ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Cross...Huuh! This is relevent to the Firet minister Questions, how?
    Boxer I must have missed that part in Betsans Post about the Report. Honestly you two!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Welcome back, Betsan. Could you tell us if the Welsh Language Commissioner's report is purely advisory; or if her peromptary tone stating what is required, and demand that it is now up to WAG to turn her demands into legislation, has any constitutional basis?
    Did I miss the bit in the recent referendum about the onward march to a fully bilingual nation with Welsh medium education for all ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    So its come to this .Putting on a show for the increasingly crazy Plaido no-hopers is deemed more important than the "Welsh" economy

    I'm no Labour fan, but the idea of Plaid Cymru et al having any power,must greatly increase the emigration applications

    The UK Govt at least knows the horrendous problems ahead.
    But Wales just spends itself closer to total collapse.

    Sheer madness!.


  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    To be fair, PMQs is much the same, a bit of knockabout and no real answers to any questions. This is political theatre or the most useless kind. Most of the work done is done in boring committee sessions, not in the chamber. Likewise Westminster. We will get better debates when there is something substantial to discuss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    And the difference between our devolved centre of power and those in Edinburgh, Scotland and London, England is, wait for it, wait for it, you 'orrible little people - it ain't got much power!!!

    Doh! As you sow, so shall you reap. It's a lesson that's as old as humanity.

    So, we have to kick our politicos up the proverbial by INSISTING that AMs take PRINCIPAL responsibility for life in Wales...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Telling. It isn't Devolution that is to blame. It is the people we elect are the culprits. If we elect second class representatives, then expect second class standards. Look at those in the Governments from the Parties in power. How many of them would you employ to run a Muti National Company. Westminster as well as the Assembly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    There is a well known competition to name five famous Belgians. A varient on this could be identify 5 great Assembly debates since 1999? I would venture to suggest that Eddy Merckx and co would be an easier task for the average Welsh person. FM questions almost make town and community councils look interesting. At best they are a cruel reminder that many Ministers really need to go on a diet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    The route for answers, of any substance, at Westminster is the written question. Ministers have to answer. Perhaps that is the way to go in WG?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    With respect what Poitician in Government actually answers any question. Why can't they just say the plain truth . What have they got to hide. Just treat us with the respect we gave them when we put them there. Well those of us gullable enough to believe they are there for our benefit. They are trained to twist the truth to be what ever they want it to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I could'nt agree more about the USELESS performance of the FM at question time.I happened to watch about 5 minutes on am/pm today and the FM looked bored,and seemingly offended that his wonderful services were being challenged by AM's. The trouble is there are no 'debates' about ideas,rather everything revolves around 'outputs',for which no one takes responsibility.The whole of devolution is MAD!!


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