Everything is upside down at Westminster at the moment. Highly experienced MPs of all parties and political correspondents are walking about in a daze asking each other questions. What is Corbyn on? Did you see that interview he did with Laura Kuennsberg, the BBC’s political editor last night? Is he feeling ok? When will his supporters out there realise that this shambolic state of affairs is embarrassing for the country and beyond a joke? He has plenty of Tory targets to aim at (tax credits, Syria, migrants), so why is he so useless on a basic level? Is the Labour party finished?
The feverish discussions are tempered with an understanding that out there, among Labour members, something extraordinary has happened and that politics as usual is bust. But while that is true, the Commons is an ancient institution where the basic rules of political gravity still apply. Someone who is a dud at the despatch box and in the main positions almost always gets found out, in the end. The end may come sooner than expected for Corbyn if he carries on like this.
It was for that reason, I suspect, that Corbyn at least had enough residual sense to take the only option available to him at PMQs this week. Instead of attacking Cameron, he read out emails from people around the country. It kind of worked, as a defensive measure.
As one MP put it to me earlier today: “He wanted to present himself at PMQs as the smallest possible target, to roll himself up in a ball like a hedgehog and make himself tough to attack.”
Surely that is not what the excited, angry, small army of Socialists who flocked to Corbyn signed up to? For Cameron to get a free pass on the biggest subjects and a chance to say how tremendous a job he thinks the government is doing?
Not only that, the Corbyn reading out emails tactic only works as a one or two week holding position. There was much fun to be had on the internet after PMQs when those on Twitter generated spoof questions mocking the Labour leader’s approach, and it will be highly surprising if Cameron and the Tory whips aren’t working on a deadly scheme to make Corbyn’s approach look utterly ridiculous.
All the Tories need to do is start asking questions that come from their own constituents. Cameron might even do it himself.
“I’m glad the leader of the opposition is involving the people of this country in PMQs. It is an important innovation for which he deserves praise. Now, I’ve also been getting emails from members of the public. Mary from Nuneaton asked me this question. She asks: should the Shadow Chancellor be a man who hailed the bravery of the IRA armed struggle that cost the lives of more than 1800 civilians? No, Mr Speaker, I do not think such a person should be entrusted with the vitally important post of Shadow Chancellor, a position held by many distinguished figures in the past when Labour was a serious, patriotic party.”
Repeat this on any topic you like where Corbyn has a weakness. It is a long list. Should MPs know the words to the national anthem? Does the Labour leader support his party’s policy on welfare?
When Corbyn’s PMQs by email initiative falls apart, he will have no option other than to go for straightforward attacks on the Tory record and the traditional approach of trying to win an argument in the chamber, where the Prime Minister always gets the last word. Nothing in Corbyn’s record or demeanour suggests he will be the slightest use at winning such arguments. At which point Cameron and the Tories will smash him to bits.
Harsh language? Unfair? No, give it a rest. No-one forced this man to stand for the Labour leadership. He occupies a vitally important position in the UK’s constitutional arrangements and he (one presumes) wants to be Prime Minister. The future of a once great party and the need in a democracy for a proper opposition is at stake. He deserves everything he gets.