16th September 2015 at The House of Commons, The Palace of Westminster, Time – 12.00 pm
Prime Minister’s Questions
Text, tweet or give us a call to ask a question to today’s guest, David Cameron. That frankly may as well have been the opening line of Jeremy Corbyn’s first appearance at Prime Minister’s question. Corbyn in preparation for today had sent out a request to anyone who wanted to ask the PM a question. On a day where unemployment was up for the third month in a row and an ordinary leader would have used the ammunition to whack the PM over the head with, not Jeremy Corbyn.
He asked a range of question from the public on housing, mental health and tax credits. What he should have known from the audience Question Time before the election is that Cameron is fine with this format. Asking straight questions also has the problem it lacks the punch behind the question. For example apparently a lady called Gail asked what the Prime Minister was going to do about mental health. Now Gail maybe genuinely wanted to know, but most of these question will have come from Corbyn’s own supporters. It is likely most of those suggesting questions on mental health really wanted Corbyn to tare into the PM for what they see as failing on the subject. The straight question ‘What will you do on mental health?’ loses this and allows the PM to tell what they are doing, and happily suggests they work together to improve things further.
The tame questions easily allowed the PM to bat them away without being particularly nasty. He got the odd shot in about needed a strong economy to deliver this or that and about how Corbyn is against welfare reform by removing the benefit cap, something Cameron knows he has the backing of key swing voters on. But on the whole Cameron could stay calm, set out his record without fear of any serious comeback, and look Prime Ministerial in the process.
Corbyn on the other hand did not look like the Leader of the Opposition. He had contracted that out to the public, represented the question in tame terms when that was surely not the intention of many of the questioners, and ended up a moderator rather than a participant. It felt like an audition for an LBC presenters job rather than to be Prime Minister. Radio PMQ’s made David Cameron’s life all too easy without really having to go on the attack.
The greatest blow came in one of the final questions from a DUP member Nigel Dodds on terrorism and the views of the new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. It allowed Cameron to respond “people who seek to justify the terrorism Britain faced should be ashamed of themselves.” to huge cheers on the Tory benches. Finally some red meat, without mentioning Corbyn specifically, it is clear who was the target of that sharp response and a dark reminder of Corbyn’s real views, despite today’s politeness.
MOON OF LIBERTY VERDICT (Out of 5) David Cameron 4 Jeremy Corbyn 1 – Easy win for Cameron who is getting good at PMQ’s, and will continue to win easily if Corbyn does not bother participating.