PMQs Verdict: If this is a shop window, Parliament should go out of business

Prime minister's questions is one of the few opportunities most voters get to see their MPs at work.

With the general election just weeks away, it is a rare shop window through which the public can inspect the goods they are about to buy.

So it really is worth running through just some of the behavior MPs choose to display through that window.

Much of what happens in the Commons doesn't get picked up by the cameras or directional microphones in the chamber, however from the press gallery I noted down the following unedifying spectacles today.   

1. Ed Balls heckling David Cameron while he was being asked a question about disabled children.

2. Members laughing as an MP tried to ask another question about cancer.

3. Labour MPs making chicken noises at the prime minister.

Now there are credible explanations for all of these. Heckling is a long parliamentary tradition and while Balls is one of the biggest practitioners of it he is by no means
the worst. And of course the MPs weren't laughing at the question about cancer. They just weren't paying any attention to it. And while Labour MPs making chicken noises may look pathetic, it does have some justification, given the prime minister's reluctance to take part in TV debates.

But the collective effect of all these exchanges is to make MPs look childish and fundamentally out of touch with the people whose votes they are about to seek.

The exchanges between Miliband and Cameron were little more edifying. The prime minister has long given up the pretence of seeking to answer the Labour leader's questions. However, in the past his responses at least bore some distant relation to the question asked. Today they bore none.Repeatedly asked about his party's broken promise to reduce immigration numbers to the tens of thousands, Cameron instead read out a list of entirely unrelated promises which he hadn't  broken.

It was like a thief standing before the dock and instead listing all the items he hadn't pilfered. "Yes your honour I know you're asking me about all those stolen phones I took, but let me first list all the many electrical goods I haven't put my hands on yet." This response presumably sounded convincing in the prime minister's office beforehand, but won't have convinced anybody else watching today.

When Miliband moved on to ask whether he would turn up to the televised election debates, Cameron instead suggested that he would turn up to any debate which took place before the election campaign began. Given the campaign started at least two months ago, it was a promise which would require the prime minister to rewrite all the laws of time and space in order to fulfill. If we're generous, this appears unlikely.

Today's session ended with a call from Labour MP And Paul Flynn for MPs to scrap the entire format.

"Today's spectacle was the worst ever, when the answers from the prime minister had no relation to the questions asked by the leader of the opposition," he told the Speaker.

"If we cannot improve prime minister's questions would it not be better in the next parliament to abolish it because it brings this House into further disrepute?"

If prime minister's questions was a real shop window on British politics, then pretty soon they'd be pulling down the shutters.