If you’d missed Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, and pitched up to business questions in the Commons today, you might not have noticed that much had changed, initially. Labour had a good frontbench team scrutinising the government, with Angela Eagle leading in her customary dry manner. She asked questions about the skills gap, while Tory ministers complained about Labour’s legacy from its time in government and tried to provoke the Opposition over the Trade Union Bill. Not much change there.
But there were differences, even if Labour looked as though it was functioning vaguely effectively after a turbulent few days. The first was that Tory frontbenchers and backbenchers such as Peter Bone could now return to an old theme of Labour confusion over the European Union. In days of old, they would tease the Opposition for refusing to offer a referendum at all, but now they teased the party for having a leader who is minded to leave the bloc. Of course, both Bone and Sajid Javid are, to varying degrees, sympathetic to Brexit too, so Javid focused more on the confusion of Labour’s European policy, while Bone congratulated Corbyn on being of a similar bent to Tory Outers on the referendum.
And the scrutiny didn’t just come from the frontbench: Caroline Flint and Chris Leslie both asked good questions from their new perches on the backbench, where they sat together, talking from time to time. They have both decided that it is best not to serve under Corbyn’s leadership, but perhaps they are anxious either that the current state of the party means there will not be sufficient scrutiny of the government from the frontbench, or that they don’t themselves appear to be in a sulk.
Hansard today recorded the first use of the word ‘Corbynista’ from Tory Chris Skidmore, who oddly seemed to be levelling it at Barry Sheerman, an ardent support of Liz Kendall. It’s probably easier for those who have become Corbynistas by joining his frontbench team to work at present as they don’t know what their party’s new policies will be. The difficulty will come when those policies start to be set, either by Corbyn himself, or by his membership.