It was at the close of the exchange between David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn that the defining moment of today’s PMQs came. Having so far avoided attacking Corbyn over his remarks on “shoot-to-kill” (I’m not happy”), Cameron finally fired. “Hasn’t it come to something when the leader of the opposition thinks that the police, when confronted by a Kalashnikov-waving terrorist, isn’t sure what the reaction should be?” he cried. By saving his barb till the end, Cameron left Corbyn with no chance to reply. “Of course I support the use of whatever proportionate and strictly necessary force is required to save life in response to attacks of the kind we saw in Paris,” the Labour leader clarified the day after his remarks. But as his MPs feared, it was the original quote that damned him and which the Tories will repeatedly recall.
The session had begun in an appropriately sombre manner, with Corbyn asking a series of non-contentious questions on support for British nationals affected by the Paris attacks, the risk of a rise in Islamophobia and the need to cut off Islamic State’s funding. The exchange turned more political when Corbyn raised next week’s Spending Review. Cameron refused to say where the extra funding for the security services would come from and highlighted Andy Burnham’s support for 10 per cent “efficiency” cuts when challenged over falling police numbers. When Corbyn used his final question to press him on whether neighbourhood policing wouldl be protected, Cameron shot to kill.
It was an apt demonstration of precisely what Labour MPs fear: that Corbyn’s contentious statements will undermine his wider message at every turn. Their leader, they fear, will never win a hearing on police cuts and security funding if voters do not trust him with the basic duty of national defence. It was left to shadow rail minster Jonathan Reynolds to rouse his colleagues’ spirits, referring to Cameron as “the new leader of the anti-austerity movement in Oxfordshire” in reference to the PM’s recent letter. As laughter reverberated around the chamber, a blushing Cameron explained: “What I said to my local council is what I say to every council, which is you’ve got to get more for less, not less for more … If his council would like to come in and get the same advice, I’d gladly oblige.”