John Penrose MP...
PUBLISHED: 12:20 22 May 2006 | UPDATED: 09:19 24 May 2010
ASKING a Prime Minister's Question is a weird experience. First you need an opportunity, which isn't as easy as it sounds.
ASKING a Prime Minister's Question is a weird experience. First you need an opportunity, which isn't as easy as it sounds. Tony Blair answers questions for half an hour every Wednesday and, predictably enough, everybody wants a go. So there's a ballot, and 15 names are pulled out of the hat each week.But even if you strike lucky, it doesn't guarantee anything. David Cameron asks six questions every week and Menzies Campbell gets another two, so Mr Blair often runs out of time before many other people get a chance. So if you aren't one of the lucky ones, what do you do? You've still got a chance, but it's a small one. Each week the speaker adds a sprinkling of questions from people who have caught his eye, which is why MPs are constantly standing up and sitting down throughout Question Time. Then you've got to prepare your question. Unlike other ministers, Mr Blair doesn't know the questions in advance. That makes Prime Minister's Questions more lively, and sometimes brutal, because people try to ambush him. The stakes are sky high, and everyone's thinking on their feet. If you want to ambush Mr Blair, try a very short question that gives him less time to think of a good answer. But remember, he always has the last word and he's very, very good at put-downs. So sensible people ask reasonable questions instead of trying to score points. And then there's the nerves. Prime Minister's Questions gets huge coverage on TV and in the papers, so several million people will know if you mess up. But that's the job, and your constituents are relying on you, so there's no use complaining. Two weeks ago, I asked Mr Blair to halt the cuts that had just been announced at Weston hospital. Rather than outright refusal, he agreed to consider it. So Prime Minister's Questions may be weird, but sometimes they're worth it.