New Style PMQs

It has been a roller coaster of a ride for Jeremy Corbyn since his election on Saturday and PMQs was the first time to see him in action in the Commons. As a former insider it is difficult to express how much of the mood for MPs is set by this weekly encounter that many of us hated in its current yah boo political style. It does matter up to a point. But as a vehicle for holding the PM to account it has largely lost its ability to do so.  I hated PMQs as a forum, but enjoyed it as theatre.  I always tried to ask serious questions and not to join the shouting. It took a lot of self restraint!

So Jeremy Corbyn by announcing he was going to do things differently would have struck a chord with many people. Although to be frank every leader of the Opposition and PM have said the same and it has lasted a few weeks, a few hours or a few minutes! 

It has not been the best start for Corbyn and his team. I say ‘team’ but from the shambolic few days he has had I am not actually sure there is a proper team in place yet. I really hope for his own sake he can rely on some good people to help him. I don’t mean to over style or over coach him but mumbling speeches at TUC conferences are not a great start. It is probably the easiest audience he will ever have and whilst most told the cameras how excited they were by his speech, most privately despaired. The fiasco over the Singing/Not singing the National Anthem is a case in point. It is an unecessary battle line. 

Today the idea of taking questions from the Public  or ‘crwodsourcing’ had some merit and the authenticity of the questions shone through from people who know what is happening in their ‘real lives’. This is always powerful and harder to tell members of the public they are wrong rather than fellow MPs. It is an innovation that should stay even when people are bored of it… 

The Corbyn style of asking questions in a calm way was welcome. Although he will have to work on the sharpness of the questions and perhaps give himself a couple of quetions as follow up with supplementaries when the PM slips out of answering the question by making a facile point or by deversion. Short sharp pointed questions have always caught Prme Ministers off their guard. Don’t forget PMs spend a great deal of time preparing for PMQs and rehearsing their ‘answers’ so they usually have good lines available when questioners give them time to think.

I was equally interested in how Cameron handled the new style. He cleverly showed he could calmly answer questions instead of going into one of his red faced rages that frankly make him look petulant. Look at not only the style of his answers but the long term traps he has laid  for Corbyn. In a very sublte way today he started defining Corbyn and you can see the ‘attack lines’ emerging already. We will see a lto more of these lines on the economy and defence.

Quite a few journalists gave it to Corbyn ‘on points’. I saw it as a 0-0 score draw. The real tests are still to come and I bet by 2019 as we build to the next election we won’t be having this style of PMQs. The noise will have risen by then. But let’s hope things have changed a little for the better.


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