Five things we learned from the first virtual PMQs

For the first time in British parliamentary history, MPs contributed to Prime Minister’s Questions via video link.

Here’s what we learned:

– Starmer impressed

Sir Keir Starmer’s forensic questioning won applause from political commentators, who praised his probing but courteous style in his first turn at the despatch box as Labour leader.

He pressed Dominic Raab on testing and protective equipment for frontline staff, and called out the First Secretary of State for “correcting” him on the figures.

In a sign of the times, Sir Keir was not surrounded by his new frontbench team – nor did he have the support of cheering backbenchers – but his performance was unaffected.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Sir Keir Starmer speaking during his first Prime Minister’s Questions as Labour leader (House of Commons/PA)

– Technology mostly held up

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg warned on Tuesday that MPs may be “muted or snatched away altogether by an itinerant internet connection” – a prediction that came true.

Tory MP Peter Bone was cut off before he had finished his question, and former Conservative cabinet minister David Mundell was not called because of technical issues.

But internet connections held out on the whole, and the first virtual PMQs was smoother than many predicted.

– The Commons was calm

The usual clamour of the Commons – with cheers and jeers – was absent as only around 30 MPs were present in the chamber in person.

Some viewers said it made the usual sparring match a more grown-up affair, and perhaps one more fitting to the national mood amid a pandemic.

Those present observed the strict social distancing measures, with signs placed in prayer card slots signifying where MPs could sit.

Coronavirus – Weds Apr 22, 2020
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey takes part in the Prime Minister’s Questions from his home in Surbiton, south London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

– Bookcase backdrops remain a hit

Bookcase backdrops have loomed large in Zoom calls across the country, and PMQs was no different.

Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts was among those with a literary background, while Stephen Kinnock chose to stand to ask his question – with his tablet propped up by a pair of trainers and a shoebox.

But a brown wall behind Barry Gardiner, the Labour former shadow cabinet minister, raised some eyebrows.

– Britain remains a nation of animal lovers

Mr Raab said a new support fund for zoos is to be launched and opened soon amid concern that some are struggling financially during the pandemic.

He told MPs: “It will be able to provide dedicated support alongside that already made available by the Treasury to help zoos care for their animals during this crisis and I urge the zoos concerned to look at the range of financial support already available, but also to make contact with Defra officials so we can see how it can be best tailored for them.”

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