When an opponent deploys every weapon in their arsenal it is typically a sign of weakness. So it was with Jeremy Corbyn at today’s PMQs. The Labour leader began with a question he has asked all too rarely (being a stranger to message discipline): if the economy is as strong as the Conservatives suggest, why is austerity still needed? (In this case a £30-a-week cut to the employment and support allowance.)
Corbyn should have hammered away at this point, forcing Cameron to choose between conceding that the economy is in fact rather weak and defending austerity. But after the Prime Minister predictably failed to answer his question, he shifted focus to reduced council spending on children. Then it was on to further education cuts, rising child poverty, falling construction output, the housing crisis. Corbyn threw the kitchen sink at Cameron in the hope that something would stick – it didn’t. The Labour leader’s rambling delivery (though he demonstrated more passion today) means that he more than most cannot afford this scattergun approach.
If Corbyn failed to wound Cameron, he at least avoided unloading his weapon on his own foot in the manner of Richard Burgon. The shadow Treasury minister asked whether the Prime Minister would resign if the UK voted to leave the EU – a good way to help ensure that it does. Turning the referendum into a vote on Cameron only pushes left-wingers towards Brexit (though this may be Burgon’s unspoken aim). Most Labour MPs (more than 90% of whom support EU membership) will have despaired at such mindless tribalism. Cameron, well aware of the danger involved, simply replied “No” to Burgon.
Earlier in the session, the PM challenged Corbyn over Labour’s decision to allow Gerry Downing, a 9/11 apologist, to rejoin the party. Though Corbyn wisely avoided responding (and giving the issue more publicity), the opposition would do well to quietly expel him this afternoon.