Cameron Flounders As Corbyn Turns PMQs Into The People’s Question Time

B006There was a tense atmosphere on Conservative benches today as David Cameron faced his first challenge at Prime Minister’s Question Time by Labour’s newly-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn – and the results were astonishing.

To those new to PMQs, this is a weekly 30 minute session where the Opposition Leader and MPs get to grill the PM on anything they like. You can learn more about it here.

Anyone who has any doubt as to the success of Corbyn’s approach today needs to rewatch BBC2’s Daily Politics. The entire thrust of the show prior to PMQs was predicated on failure. The first days of Corbyn’s leadership were defined, the pundits pronounced, by disarray and in-fighting. The White Poppy, the refusal to sing God Save The Queen, the Parliamentary Labour Party’s reluctance to support their new leader. All this was going to come over in glorious technicolor during this first PMQs, they said.

A quiet, suited Corbyn began his questions with an acknowledgement of those who elected him leader, and claimed that while he was touring the country, speaking to people in villages, towns and cities across the land, he was asked most often to change the tone of PMQs, to make it less “triumphalist”.

This is significant because Cameron’s promises of “an end to Punch and Judy politics” back in 2005 came to nothing – and the PM is known for losing his temper and becoming personal and unprofessional at the despatch box. You will recall his infamously sexist response to Labour’s Angela Eagle in 2011, when he told the then Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury to ‘Calm down, dear’.

While Cameron did well to embrace the offer, he very soon began to appear uncomfortable as Corbyn hit him repeatedly with quiet, forensic questions that came direct from the public. The Labour Leader decided to crowd source his PMQs, inviting the public to send him the questions to which they most want answers. He received over 40,000.


Corbyn’s style was quiet, and forensic.

Corbyn followed a simple formula. He explained how many people emailed him about an issue, he picked one of the questions on that issue, and he launched it at the PM. His first question shows just how effective this approach might be in coming months.

“Two and a half thousand people emailed me on the housing crisis in this country, and I ask one from a woman called Marie, who says: ‘What does the government intend to do about the chronic lack of affordable housing and the extortionate rents charged by some private sector landlords in this country?'”

Cameron responded:

“We do need to see more affordable housing in our country. We delivered 260,000 affordable housing units in the last parliament. We built more council houses in our country than the previous 13 years had been managed. But I recognise much more needs to be done.”

Cameron’s statement here is fill of holes, in fact, outright lies.

By forcing Cameron onto the ground of facts, and defending his record in numbers, Corbyn opens the Prime Minister up to a greater degree of probity than he normally endures.

After PMQs, a clearly startled and stunned BBCDP team were without negative comment. Andrew Neil immediately followed the scent of Corbyn’s attack, laying into Tory MP Ed Vaizey over housing. Vaizey stared meekly at Neill, unable to defend the record.

“How many did you build in 2013/4?” Neil asks. To which Vaizey responds with the wrong answer, and the exchange continues as below.

Neil: “134,000. It’s 100,000 short of what we require. How many have you built in the financial year that ended this April?”

Vaizey: “127,000”

Neil: “You built 137,000, which is 3,000 more than the previous year. So in other words, it’s static. There is no housing boom. In this country, for the second year running, you were 100,000 behind what we need. This housing crisis can only get worse.”

Co-host Jo Coburn was wide-eyed with excitement as she rolled back into the studio following the questions. Asked how it felt, she replied:

“Extraordinary, actually. I literally got the last seat in the House.

I have never seen the chamber so packed, to the rafters. On the public gallery side, on the press gallery side, and most definitely within the chamber itself.

It was also completely different to any other PMQs I’ve watched in the sense that there was so much anticipation.

I could only see the Tory MPs from where my seat was and they looked a little nervous, a little bit ‘I don;t know whats coming here.’

Even George Osborne and David Cameron looked a little bit apprehensive.”

Corbyn used his six questions to cover the housing crisis, mental health, tax credits and the issues most important to the public – and it worked. But if any exchange proved Cameron’s discomfort it came between the PM and SNP MP Angus Robertson. When Robertson challenged the PM on his failure to deliver the promised Home Rule to Scotland, a year to the day after promising to do so, the PM became visibly flustered. Mr Cameron rushed his reply, finishing by sniping at Robertson:

“Are you, when it comes to talking about the issues, Frit?!” (the Scottish colloquial term for frightened)

There was roaring from the Conservative benches before a quiet Robertson took to his feet again, looked cooly at the PM and replied:

“Very interesting. What happened to the new style of PMQs from the Prime Minister?”

SNP MP Angus Robertson's expression after challenging Cameron over his 'Frit' comment

SNP MP Angus Robertson’s expression after challenging Cameron over his ‘Frit’ comment

Just 15 minutes after making his promise, Cameron had already forgotten it, and broken it – neatly summing up his entire Prime Minister-ship.

Corbyn will need to find a way of including a comeback to Cameron’s answers – the PM should not be allowed to leave these factually inaccurate responses dangling in the air. It is also clear that Corbyn is facing opponents infront and behind him at PMQs – but that shouldn’t come as news to anybody.

However, what this approach ensures is that those of us in the progressive media, who bear the responsibility to act as the Fourth Estate (in the absence of much of the mainstream press), are then able to hoist Cameron on his own petard, week after week. Corbyn is, in essence, forcing Cameron to lose ground publicly at PMQs by telling the truth, or lose ground publicly after PMQs by telling lies that can be unpicked after the fact. Better yet, he’s using your questions to do it.

Politics just got interesting again.


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23 thoughts on “Cameron Flounders As Corbyn Turns PMQs Into The People’s Question Time

  1. Pingback: Corbyn Turns PMQs into the People’s Question Time, and Cameron Flounders* | Hwaairfan's Blog

  2. Pingback: Learning from Jeremy Corbyn’s number one priority | The Churning

  3. What…not do it again? Personally, I think It would have been more of a mistake for him to go against his beliefs by singing it, and therefore his integrity. Most people I know aren’t royalists, I don’t think by not sing the National Anthem makes him against those who fought in the war. I presume he has respect for the soldiers, but has the knowledge of the bigger picture and what the Royals/elite are all about. Therefore a good representative of the current country with the integrity of sticking to his morals instead of pandering to what might on the surface be considered the best thing to do.
    I see newspapers pouncing on him for this move and find it strange that a lot of people don’t put two and two together…he wants to end the sham of sending innocent men to war for the gain of the fat cats. Is that not surely glaring people in the face!?

  4. I’m in Canada visiting m Son, the news of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party and this report of his first PMQ’s has been brilliant. Politics with truth and transparency, remember every politician is an elected servant of the public.

  5. The “Frit” thing is also an interesting throwback. Although it’s a Scottish term, Thatcher used it to taunt Denis Healey in the Commons about the prospoect of an election in 1983.

  6. In Scotland there is no colloquial term “Frit”, the term some of us use is ‘feart’, meaning to be afraid.
    I can’t say Im surprised the PM got it wrong, it’s just an example of his condescending attitude to those of us north of the border and a sign he needs to get better people doing his research.

  7. Thanks “Scripto” for this report! It’s hard to believe it’s happening, really.
    From down under, in the deep hole, the questions you relay about “housing” from Jeremy Corbyn to Cameron smacked, to this “Land Reformist” Vigilante, as manna from Heaven. If an Aussie Republicanist can relate Westmonster as Heaven?
    But, almost as if reading my own thoughts, Jeremy opens the big issue question, I impute, about the legitimacy and future of the highly dubious claims the House of Lords of Westmonster have, on the whole 1/7 of the planet’s lands, As “housing” does actually go to the Terra Firma base issue beneath housing for every one of us, and of all Life on our one Earth Mumma, does it not?
    Aka, the tenability of the British Commonwealth!
    From a descendant of Indigenous True Fellas here, whose own Nation (of over 520, prior to the invasion) were driven extinct (according to some sources, Wiki, one) by as late as the 1930s, therefore clearly and admittedly somewhat biased, an impartial analysis of the existence of the Commonwealth, does firmly conclude that it cannot be sustained in anything like the way it has and does, chiefly by it having so much of the wealth extracted from the colonies and still being sent to Britain.
    I see the usual knee-jerk reactions from the British, for they are mostly well aware that their relatively opulent 1st world lifestyles exist only for the plundering of foreign lands as the British East India Company (latterly the IMF) warred it’s way around the planet from the 17th or 18th centuries on. So too, of course, do the 1st world cultures of the nations of the Commonwealth.
    Aussie Aborigines did not sustain for well over a million years by being selfish, bigoted or exclusivist. OR by being false!
    And the Finest of those Ancient, Timeless Traditions continue to this day here.
    We jus’ be waitin’ for you fellas t’ CATCH-UP! hahaha.
    I mean that, were the British to come to their senses, and dissolve both the monarchy, the antithesis to True Democracy, same, by NO coincidence, as “christianity”, and to dissolve the Commonwealth, also implies the right, the need, but mostly the means of how to dissolve the “housing crisis” all nations endure, because of the British-imposed global BAD LAND LAWS. Or, the bad laws of distribution.
    A massive call, for anyone to take-up, no doubt.
    And I would not even ask Jeremy Corbyn and Labour UK to lead that “Revolution”, only for the brutal opposition the “lords” have mustered over the 1,000 years of land-theft, etc. But, they really are the most suited to that Mighty Challenge!
    However, he and his party allies, whether themselves landlords or not, have probably looked and seen a little more Honorably and scientifically as to the root of too many of the world’s woes, which are “peaking” in this 21st century.
    Land distribution, thus, housing shortages, thus Refugees and Asylum Seekers from nations still run by utterly ruthless warlords who steal and falsely claim thereafter they “own” the Peoples’ Lands, and force all into slavery just to afford a roof. ET cetera.
    In my musings on my own 20-plus years of homelessness down under, and on this rather related issue of land distribution, I have time to imagine how different the world might be, were such fundamentals.., Proper.
    The end-game of such musings arrive at the ideal of bringing down all international borders, for they are in truth, nothing more, nowadays at least, than “economic exclusion barriers” to the exclusivist economic zones – aka “nations” – owned and played with by the descendants of the warlords of yor, today’s monarchs, and dynastic filth, er, super-rich elites.
    Apologies for the diatribe. But this is the issue the world is being forced to confront.
    What with the rush of Middle-Eastern Refugees and Asylum-Seekers storming Europe as we write.
    Albeit that Israel is sponsoring ISIS AND the USA terrorist christo-corporo-military-industrial-complex (plus, and via the zionist media cabals, thanks Rupert!) to completely unsettle the Mid-East, to drive out the indigenous non-jews so the invading false, or European jews, can assume ownership of the new Israel, ie., the whole of the Levantine!
    So, clearly, the issues of Britain’s “housing crisis” as addressed in PMQ by the RIGHTEOUS Jeremy Corbyn, have huge and far-reaching implications, and ramifications, IF, they can be held to the fore of debate in Westmonster, from now on.
    But, as I was saying, were such Righteous Reforms to manifest, Working Class Brit’s surely should see that they would not be looked down upon by all the world’s Indigenies, anymore! Indeed, we would welcome the new Attitood reflected down from a REPUBLICAN Corbyn Labour-Greens Government, and to and throughout the FREED British Peoples.
    Sorry again. I just had to say it…!

    REALPolitik Outlaw Journalist

  8. Good article, which reflects what I saw of the discussion.

    I don’t think Corbyn needs to always press Cameron regarding his answers to the questions submitted by the public. Better, I think, he lets the PM hang himself by being allowed to speak freely. Then, when he makes factual mistakes, these can be noted for use during real debates on the floor of the house.

    Softly, softly catchy monkey.

  9. THank you for this article Kerry Anne. May I ask if others are having difficulty sharing from this site on to Facebook? I’ve tried three times – two different ways. Keeps coming up an error?

  10. I like the fact that he is asking the public for input regarding the PMQ, but for him not to join in singing the National Anthem was a big mistake especially as it related to remembering those who gave their lives in the Battle of Britain. Without their sacrifice Corbyn would most likely not have been born to enjoy the freedoms we have come to take for granted.
    I hope he makes a note to himself not to do that again.

    • I think the point is Corbyn is a republican, and to sing an anthem that’s about the Queen, not the country, and certainly not about ordinary people fighting to protect freedom, would leave him open to accusations of hypocrisy. I don’t think remaining silent is a slight against veterans or the dead. I note with interest the account from a serving member of the armed forces who attended the service thanking Corbyn for a respectful silence and contrasting it with Cameron and his defence minister ‘glad-handing’ and looking around for camera angles.

    • What has the national anthem got to do with remembering those brave men and women that gave their lives in the Battle of Britain. One does not need to sing the National Anthem in order to be respectful – to do something that you do not believe in is disrespectful and filled with falsehood. He showed his respect by standing in a dignified silence – and I’m sure in his silence and thoughts, he thought of those brave men and women.

    • Not really, Jane, if you don’t mind my saying so. There is no mention in the “National Anthem” of those who have lost their lives fighting for their country. It just asks God to keep her safe and allow her longevity, in order that she can rule over us for a long time. Corbyn showed no disrespect to the fallen by standing quietly for its duration.

    • You obviously do not know all the words!! Look up verse six, all about “crushing the Scots”!!!
      AS a Scot I would never sing this evil diatribe. As a republican I would never sing this rubbish.

    • he stood in dignified silence, exactly as I would have done unlike a few others who were mugging for the cameras. it is possible ms Davies to show respect for the fallen without resorting to singing that out of date dirge

    • Although I would not count myself a Corbyn fan, on this issue he was exactly right, in my humble opinion. The National Anthem is a dirge, at best and represents something which a lot of us do not support.

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