For most Labour leaders, the Tories’ present divisions would be a gift from the Gods. But Jeremy Corbyn has frequently been reluctant to exploit them. In the recent Vice documentary, he was shown dismaying his communications director Seumas Milne by declaring of Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation: “It’s not up to me to throw in other than a couple of lines about the government’s in a mess”.
At PMQs today, however, Corbyn threw in far more than a couple of lines. He challenged Cameron to rebuke employment minister Priti Patel for promising a post-Brexit bonfire of regulations, and to condemn Michael Gove for his admission that EU withdrawal could cost jobs. The Labour leader seemed to have drawn clear inspiration from Angela Eagle’s Tory-baiting PMQs performance two weeks ago.
Cameron responded by simply pointing out that collective responsibility had been suspended and that he disagreed with his ministers. But Corbyn’s remarks demonstrated how difficult it will be for PM to reunify his party after so many domestic policy divisions have been exposed. Though Cameron was largely unruffled, he exasperatedly remarked: “I could of course mention that the MP for Birmingham Edgbaston [Labour’s Gisela Stuart] was out yesterday spinning for Nigel Farage. But I don’t want to play that game, I want to stress the unity of purpose there is.” The Remain campaign emphasises, however, that it is helpful for Corbyn to differentiate his stance from Cameron’s and appeal to left-leaning voters.
The Labour leader also challenged the PM on zero-hours contracts following the Sports Direct scandal (Cameron reaffirmed that the government had banned “exclusive” ones and would go no further) and on country-by-country tax reporting, which Tory MEPs have previously opposed. “I’m really pleased that his MEPs support it. We’re all delighted about that. I just hope they get around for voting for it, that would really help,” Corbyn sardonically remarked. Neither the Labour leader nor the PM produced a knock-out blow. But the former is now at least aiming his punches in the right direction.