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14 October 2015

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn’s best moment as leader

The Labour leader raised his game at his second bout with David Cameron. 

By George Eaton

As he rose to his feet at his second PMQs as opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn received a comically lukewarm welcome from Labour MPs. But the session proved to be his best moment to date. As he did at his first outing, Corbyn started with a voter’s question (from “Kelly” on tax credit cuts) but this time asked a follow-up. It was a smarter tactic, which immediately put David Cameron under greater pressure than last time (the PM gleefully told colleagues how easy he found the session). Having humanised the issue through Kelly, a single mother to a disabled child, Corbyn then reminded the PM that three million families were set to lose £1,800 a year. The segue from the particular to the general could prove to be a reliably effective tactic for him. 

Corbyn went on to show that he isn’t afraid to also deploy some old-style tactics.”The Prime Minister’s doing his best and I admire that,” he quipped at one point. Having asked several follow-up questions, Corbyn returned to crowd-sourcing, revealing that he had received 3,500 on housing. The Tory chortling as he spoke was not a good look for the new “workers’ party”. Corbyn responded with his best teacher impression: “This might be funny to some…” After Cameron defended the government’s housing policy, he gently gibed: “Can I bring the Prime Minister back to reality?” The “new politics”, it turns out, might not be as new as thought – and Corbyn’s performance was all the better for it. 

There was no knock-out blow, and some Labour MPs fear their leader is simply incapable of landing one, but Corbyn’s performance was an unambiguous improvement (though, oddly, he failed to note the government’s U-turn on the Saudi prison contract, which he helped secure). As the Speaker, John Bercow, suggested at the end of the session, the length of Corbyn’s questions means “we’re making much slower progress than in the last parliament” (PMQs overran by eight minutes today). But the Labour leader had every reason to want the event to go on as long as possible. After a fraught week, he found himself on sturdier ground in the Commons.

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