16 September 2015

PMQs: A win for Corbyn


Such was the level of anticipation ahead of Jeremy Cobyn’s first session putting the questions to David Cameron in the Commons that I could hardly watch. Would Corbyn turn up? After all, he missed his cue at the TUC. Would he be embarrassingly useless? Would he start shouting incoherently?

In the end he did pretty well, even though it looked initially as if his new approach would involve burbling on for hours in a deeply boring fashion. As he settled in, it was clear that this would not be the case. His technique of asking questions calmly on behalf of individual voters, on serious subjects such as mental health services, was effective. In a funny way, it all worked (although I’m biased as I hate the smuggery and yah-booing of the traditional PMQs.) It is also questionable whether Corbyn’s fresh approach is going to work every week.

But, and this is a big but, what Corbyn did today was to survive and little more. The Tories will be very pleased, because it has felt in the last 72 hours as though the Corbyn leadership has been in the process of blowing up on the launch pad. The Conservatives want him to stay in post as long as possible because they are convinced he is a disaster for Labour.

Elsewhere in PMQs today, time and again Cameron demonstrated that the Tories have numerous attack lines to choose from. It wasn’t just that Corbyn’s non-confrontational approach allows Cameron to list what the government is doing without barracking from the opposition benches. When an MP asked about the IRA, Cameron could praise Airey Neave and Ian Gow, murdered in the 1970s and 1980s by the Provos (whose leaders are friends of Corbyn). A reference to Africa, and the work of British troops in a humanitarian crisis, enabled Cameron to say he is in no doubt that Britain needs a proper military. He didn’t even need to say that his view is in contrast to the Labour leader’s view. MPs knew what he meant. Cameron is operating in a target-rich environment.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX.