Corbyn triumphed at PMQs - while Cameron's stock responses showed him up as out-of-touch

Laughs from the bench every time a member of the public's name was mentioned? The classy Conservatives strike again

Liam Young
Thursday 17 September 2015 08:37 BST
Jeremy Corbyn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons
Jeremy Corbyn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons (PA)

I doubt many people woke up this morning envious of Jeremy Corbyn. After promising to change the ‘theatrical’ nature of Prime Minister’s Questions and faced with the initial task of reducing 40,000 submitted questions to six, the new Labour leader had his work cut out for him. All eyes were on him - and not many of them friendly.

What a relief, then, that he triumphed with a set of razor-sharp questions focused on the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. Fortunately for Corbyn, of course, this is an area that the Conservative party continually fails to concern itself with.

Cameron’s lack of compassion and stark inhumanity was obvious from the outset. His detachment from the reality of food banks and employment insecurity across modern Britain was more apparent than ever. Cameron’s responses were scripted and rehearsed, while Corbyn’s questions were plainly sincere.

This was most obvious when it came to the questions on mental health. Devoid of realistic consideration about the serious problems faced by those who suffer from conditions like depression and schizophrenia, Cameron offered warnings on Labour’s apparent economic incompetence in response to a question about the lack of access to mental health support. His stock answers, which may as well have been cut and pasted from a Tory manual, were insufficient in the face of Corbyn’s new, straightforward and honest politics. Study after study shows that Britain’s mental health is in crisis, with current estimates stating that 2 million more adults will experience mental health issues by 2030. Corbyn’s response to this crisis – the creation of a dedicated shadow Minister for Mental Health position – is practical and sensible. Cameron’s generalistic responses at PMQs, meanwhile, fail to inspire; little wonder considering his government has slashed mental health services.

Using questions from the public was a radical but hugely successful approach for a party that was crying out for parliamentary reform. Cameron’s boasts of Labour’s belief in ‘unlimited welfare’ were undermined by the fact that Jeremy Corbyn's questions came from real people who are reliant on support due to skyrocketing rents.

When Corbyn attached the names of the respective people who suggested the questions to his statements, there were loud sniggers from the Tory benches - as if a ‘Marie’ could ever be truly interested in the housing crisis. Needless to say, this tactic was wholly unconvincing. No longer can the success of a Prime Minister be measured on the volume of his fellow MPs’ brays and jeers; it must be measured by the real people who those MPs have now openly mocked.

Though the Prime Minister remained calm throughout Corbyn’s questioning, the mask soon slipped when it came to scrutiny from the SNP. Turning his back on SNP members, raising his voice and bashing the despatch box, Cameron showed that he just isn’t ready for the frank and factual debate Corbyn wants to turn the Punch-and-Judy-esque PMQs into. He may have intended to play the charitable statesman, but ultimately he lost his cool among Corbyn’s new politics.

Today, Corbyn entered the commons battered and bruised by recent headlines, but he left on the upper hand, spurred by the fact that he is genuiely in touch with the real difficulties and aspirations of the people of Britain. In the battles that lie ahead, this will be Corbyn’s greatest strength; his wish to pose questions on behalf of the British people is not a PR strategy, indeed it has been his lifelong cause. Last week, Corbyn promised to change politics - and today, he’s made a ground-breaking start.

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