PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn stays calm as David Cameron attacks

The Labour leader was unruffled by the PM's blunt insults. 


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The final PMQs of the year was reminiscent of those of seasons past. Jeremy Corbyn interrogated David Cameron on the NHS (asking just one crowdsourced question) with Cameron deploying the same rebuke he used against Ed Miliband: a strong health service depends on a strong economy. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Corbyn started the session in cheerful form by wishing MPs and Major Tim Peake ("who's not on the planet at the moment" - "like you!" Tory MPs cried) a "merry Christmas". In reponse, Cameron declared: "I don't want to wish him the 'season's greetings', I want a full happy Christmas", seemingly unaware that the Labour leader had just met his demand. A nonplussed Corbyn replied: "Just for the record, Mr Speaker, I did say Happy Christmas". 

Having avoided attacks on him after he first became Labour leader, the PM can now rarely resist. But Corbyn remains unerringly calm, preferring dry humour to Cameron's blunt insults. Few were impressed by the PM's jibe that Labour wanted to reduce fossil fuels but to "reopen coal mines" (a stance Corbyn has long abandoned) - "so presumably what they're going to do is dig a big hole in the ground and then do nothing. What a metaphor for his leadership of his party!" There were even greater groans when Cameron told Tory MP Oliver Dowden, who asked about Star Wars (made in Elstree Studios), "I know he will never join the dark side" ("Awful, resign, resign!" cried shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant). 

But there was one Cameron attack that Corbyn likely sympathised with. After the Labour leader referred to him as "part of the Oxfordshire anti-austerity movement" (in reference to Cameron's protest at local cuts), the PM pointed out that the Conservatives had pledged to spend more on the NHS than Labour at the general election (£8bn to £2.5bn). 

Later in the session, the SNP's Angus Robertson cited John Major's warning against "flirting" with EU withdrawal (as Cameron recently has) and spoke of "consequences" were Scotland pulled out against its will (i.e. a second independence referendum).  

Another flashpoint came when Douglas Carswell, to groans from Tory MPs, rose to ask a question on Cameron's troubled European renegotiation. But this time the PM had a sharp riposte: Carswell joined the Conservatives  "when we weren't committed to a referendum and he left when we were" and was "giving his new boss as much trouble as he gave me". Unfortunately for Cameron, there are still plenty more EUphobes to give him trouble in 2016. 

George Eaton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.