THE new leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, confronted Prime Minister David Cameron in parliament for the first time on Wednesday 16) and said the house’s raucous weekly question-and-answer session should be less theatrical and more about hearing ordinary people’s voices.
Kicking off with questions on unaffordable housing, mental health and welfare, Corbyn’s low-key performance did little to ruffle Cameron, who gave detailed answers in an unusually muted manner.
The session had been eagerly awaited, with some anticipating a fierce duel between Corbyn, a bearded stalwart of left-wing causes and an opponent of austerity, and the upper-class Conservative Cameron. Known as “PMQs” - Prime Minister’s Questions - the weekly verbal jousts have become combative in the age of rolling 24-hour news, with witty put-downs that appeal to television often drowning out questions about government policy or direction.
Corbyn, elected Labour Party leader at the weekend, shrugged off a reference by Cameron to a World War Two remembrance service on Tuesday where he was criticised for not singing the national anthem. Instead, he launched into an attack on PMQs.
“Many told me that they thought…parliament was out of touch and too theatrical, and that they wanted things done differently,” Corbyn told a packed parliament, where some lawmakers were forced to stand on the stairs.
“And above all, they wanted their voice heard in parliament.”
In response to the prime minister saying he did not want Britain to become a place where people did not want to work, Corbyn said some needed welfare and that providing it was the “decent, civil thing” to do. Labour lawmakers congratulated Corbyn, with some praising him for deflating his Conservative opponents, who often try to score points from the opposition with well-timed barbs.
Cameron was bolstered when he became leader of the Conservative Party in 2005 in his first exchange when he told the then prime minister, Tony Blair, that he had been “the future once”.
But a misplaced comment can backfire. Cameron was criticised for once telling a woman lawmaker to “Calm down, dear!” during an exchange, drawing accusations of sexism.
“Jeremy’s style today and the substance of his questions definitely spoiled the Tories’ fun. He kept it on the real issues, it was a good first outing,” Labour lawmaker Wes Streeting said.