Naked Politics Blogger
Every Wednesday a large group of politicians meet to present their pre written question and answer session to the sound of posh elderly men exhaling increasingly negative sounds, while they throw shallow insults across the room. The fact that the front benches are positioned precisely two swords length apart is still surprisingly appropriate. It appeared it would always be like this, until Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the opposition. Somehow Prime Minister’s Questions appeared to change. Jeremy Corbyn has brought in questions not from politicians but from the public, and presented them in a far less aggressive manner.
On face value, the events of that first PMQs were rather underwhelming; but what it began was a fascinating political chess match appropriate for such an event. However, this format created issues for both party leaders. On one hand it made it impossible for David Cameron to ridicule the question, as it would mean openly insulting a member of the public, something that didn’t well for Gordon Brown in 2010. Alternately it gave the Prime Minster the chance to merely reel off an extract of the Tory manifesto and move on to the next question. He didn’t necessarily get pinned down to an uncomfortable answer.
After recovering from the shock of commoner’s questions being put to a man of Mr Cameron’s stature, the event became a bit static. The Conservatives across the bench appeared humoured by the set up the new party leader had adopted and laughed from behind the Prime Minister as Corbyn pulled out his now familiar ‘I’ve received this question from Joe Bloggs from Tranmere’. Understandably something had to change, we had already seen Cameron face questions from the public during the election. Even after just a few weeks it already needed a revamp.
The last week has brought one of the most interesting events in Parliament that we have seen during this government, and Corbyn’s PMQs performance certainly lived up to all the controversy. Unless you have recently returned from an investigative research project on tribal communities in the Amazon rainforest, the story of the tax credit cuts has been almost unavoidable. Corbyn had the advantage of this being the stand out political story of week. After all not many people have died escaping Syria this week, the human rights record of China isn’t getting any worse and barely anything controversial happened in the football at all. With David Cameron’s pre-written answer scribbled on the back of his hand (one part long term economic plan, one part unconstitutional Lords one part insult Jeremy Corbyn’s tie and five parts blame every individual Labour MP for the world financial crisis) it was unlikely he could be wrong footed.
It turned out to be one of the most successful PMQs for the opposition party since Cameron had become Prime Minister, Corbyn instead of asking a variety of questions asked one, “Can the Prime Minister guarantee that no one will be worse off next year as a result to cuts in working tax credits?”, but without receiving a satisfactory answer he asked again, and again, a total of six times. Still he received no answer and the ‘unelectable’ opposition leader, while also working in a question from the public (conveniently the same question), made Cameron seem further from public opinion than he ever had been before.
We have seen many politicians skilfully dodge questions, and often not so skilfully, but what made this occasion so different was the platform it was on. PMQs allow the Prime Minister to be brought to account and have to answer for his decisions over the week. For years they have brushed off questions instead answering their own, but rarely have they been pinned down so blatantly. This week was a victory for everyone who is tired of politicians not giving a straight answer, and as Corbyn positions himself more firmly as a people’s voice I for one cannot wait to watch next Wednesday’s action.