Ed Miliband proposes 'public question time' for prime minister

Houses Of Parliament

Ed Miliband has proposed a weekly "public question time" where an audience would be allowed to ask the prime minister anything they like, in a radical suggestion for reforming the culture of politics.

He will write to the Speaker of the House of Commons with more details of his idea to make politics more accountable as well as suggesting that there could be wider reforms of prime minister's questions, which is held weekly on a Wednesday.

Labour said the audience for the public Q&A should be representative of the country and that it should bne held in parliament at least fortnightly, but ideally weekly.

Downing Street said David Cameron was open to new ways of engaging with the public, while noting that the prime minister already held "PM Direct" sessions where he took questions from people in towns and cities across the country. It is understood he will examine Miliband's ideas after they are presented to the Speaker.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Miliband said there needed to be a session "where regularly the prime minister submits himself or herself to questioning from members of the public in the Palace of Westminster on Wednesdays".

He said: "We'll see how often we do it. We definitely want to do it regularly and I want to make a formal proposal to the Speaker of the House of Commons. He and I talked before many times about prime minister's questions.

"Let me put it this way: at the moment there's a few inches of glass that separates the public in the gallery from the House of Commons but there's a gulf miles wide between the kind of politics that people want and what prime minister's questions offers."

Senior politicians, including Miliband and Cameron, have criticised prime minister's questions for being too aggressive and combative. The Speaker, John Bercow, has repeatedly called for an end to the "orchestrated barracking" and claimed several female MPs avoid the sessions because of the atmosphere. Despite his entreaties, however, PMQs has continued in the same vein.

Miliband said his proposal for public involvement was not a gimmick. It comes after he made a speech about his personal political style, saying he was not a politician out of "central casting", in contrast with Cameron's courting of photo opportunities and repetition of soundbites.

"I want to find ways to change our political culture," he said. "It's not just about putting the photo-op first. That is a problem, but it is deep, this, and it goes beyond that."

Miliband said Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, was right to do a weekly radio phone-in with members of the public and he would try to do something similar.

"I knew at the time he got a whole lot of bile about it when he did it and I remember saying to people, actually, it's a good thing to do. I want to do that and I will do that in terms of radio phone-ins, but I want to do something more."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th July 2014 12.03 Europe/London

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