Isabel Hardman

PMQs: Corbyn hones his skills as Leader of the Opposition, but not as an election winner

PMQs: Corbyn hones his skills as Leader of the Opposition, but not as an election winner
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Jeremy Corbyn’s growing confidence at Prime Minister’s Questions is almost perfectly in step with his growing unpopularity outside the Chamber. He has perfected his geography teacher stare of disapproval to the extent that Tory MPs now automatically fall silent when he talks for fear of being kept behind after class. And he isn’t leaping all over the place with a phone-in format that doesn’t hold the Prime Minister to account. This week, the Labour leader focused on tax credits, and highlighted David Cameron’s inability to answer his questions about whether he could guarantee that no-one would be worse off as a result of the changes.

Cameron didn’t answer the questions well at all, but he also didn’t lose his cool, and his final answer highlighted the real problem for Corbyn. It isn’t that the new Labour leader needs to improve his style at Prime Minister’s Questions, though he is certainly doing that. It is that he needs to have a riposte, backed up with party policy, to this point from the Prime Minister:

‘The reason the Labour party lost the last election is they were completely untrusted on the deficit on debt and on a stable economy and since then the deficit deniers have taken over the Labour party.’

Corbyn and his colleagues would be well-advised to hone their Leader of the Opposition skills to perfection until they find an answer to that problem. Because until they do, they won’t have the chance to hone their skills on the government benches.

Mind you, the skills of those MPs on the benches of the governing party seem largely confined to asking totally pointless planted questions that allow the Prime Minister to take pot shots at Labour, rather than ones that help them perform their duty as backbench members of the legislature in holding the executive to account. Twas ever thus, but today’s batch of Conservative questions really were the worst for a while, ranging from a question about tractor production in Basildon that meant Cameron could joke about the Soviet Union and Seumas Milne to vague queries about whether the Prime Minister agreed that things were going really well in certain constituencies. For any whips or PPSs present, this was a very successful PMQs as it shows that the Tory party is currently prepared to take planted questions and help the Prime Minister.