Harold Macmillan felt physically sick before every Prime Minister’s Questions, even though Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the opposition, would only ask him one question every three weeks. Even Tony Blair, possibly the best PMQs performer of them all, described Parliament’s centrepiece confrontation as ‘the most nerve-racking, discombobulating, nail-biting, bowel-moving, terror-inspiring, courage-draining experience in my prime ministerial life’.
PMQs effectively began in 1961 and was livened up in 1975, when MPs were permitted to ask supplementary questions on any subject they chose. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher ratcheted things up further by deciding to answer every question herself, instead of batting away some to her ministers. The televising of Parliament from November 1989 added a new dimension.
Thatcher used to remind leaders at summits that no other head of government had to face such an ordeal, calling it ‘the real test of your authority in the House, your standing with your party [and] your grip of policy’. As Ayesha Hazarika and Tom Hamilton point out in this