As I began watching Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday I was immediately embarrassed by the Conservatives childish reaction to Jeremy Corbyn.
Once again Mr Corbyn took to the dispatch box and was instantly subjected to a tirade of jeering from the other side of the House, which was so awkward to watch that it made me wince. Wince because I knew that as I was watching this childish display so were another 250,000 people. A quarter of a million people watching an elected Member of Parliament being shouted at by 300 buffoons.
So why do the Tories consistently jeer at Corbyn? Because they’re scared. Scared of a new Labour Leader who takes an approach they haven’t seen before and which they haven’t yet developed a way to counteract. Scared by a man who, unlike their own leader, is able to contain his emotion under pressure. A man who doesn’t get visibly agitated when the questions aren’t going his way. A man who, unlike Cameron, won’t tow the party line when he’s told to.
Reconnecting with the public
When Jeremy Corbyn began to ask David Cameron questions from Labour supporters at his first PMQs, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I was concerned that the approach could be construed by the Tories as desperation on behalf of the party to find any possible way to reconnect with the voters that they lost in the 2015 General Election.
What actually happened was that it personalised the questions. For the first time, Cameron was directly answerable to a member of the public; in front of thousands of people. People, like me, who often feel that they don’t have any sort of voice past their local Councillor.
Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying it was a clever move. First of all it makes potential voters feel that they are valued, that their emails and letters are being read and that the Labour Party is actually listening to them. Just like a company making their customers feel valued, it’s a proven marketing strategy to hold on to.
Secondly, it puts the wind up the Tories. They simply hate the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is asking questions which matter to people who work hard every day to make ends meet. Even more, they hate that Corbyn is asking questions for the people which the present Conservative government have attacked time and time again; teachers, nurses, unskilled workers, low earners, the disabled and now students.
If they’re jeering, they’re fearing
OK, so that’s a pretty poor slogan, but it works for me. If the Tories are jeering Jeremy Corbyn they’re doing so to stop him from being heard. They don’t want the public to hear what he has to say so the best they can do it to try and drown him out. Of course it doesn’t work as the Speaker of the House persistently reminds MPs that the public want to hear the questions…and the answers.
Whilst I’m on the subject of answers…
Why does David Cameron insist on answering questions with questions? The entire point of PMQ’s is that the PM is asked a question and gives an answer. David Cameron is a persistent offender dodging questions or replying with an attack. Today was no different. Last week it was jibes about the time it took Jeremy Corbyn to reshuffle the Shadow Cabinet; totally irrelevant to the questions he was asked.
However, it’s good for Labour. The public aren’t stupid and sooner or later they’re going to be as fed up with the Conservatives approach as I find myself.
I wrote to Jon Bercow in June 2015 and I’ll leave you with my email and his response:
Dear Mr Bercow,
This week, the Leader of the Opposition was given the opportunity to ask six questions. However, the Prime Minister once again refused to answer the questions, generally responding with another question. Surely the entire point of the debate is for the PM to answer questions; if he constantly insists of responding with another question it completely defeats to point of the process. As if it isn’t disrespectful that Minister’s insisted on shouting whilst Harriet Harman was talking it is even more so when Mr Cameron then refuses to give a straight answer.
Later in the debate, Cat Smith asked a question and was then subject to a sarcastic and flippant response from the PM. Surely this kind of debating isn’t conducive to engaging the public?
Perhaps it would be prudent to remind Mr Cameron that the name of the half-hour debate is ‘Prime Minister’s Questions’, not ‘Leader of the Opposition’s Questions’!
Dear Mr Hicks,
Mr Speaker would like to thank you for your email of 6 June and to reply on his behalf.
The Speaker has asked me to explain that he is the servant of the House and can only operate within the powers which the House has granted him. These do not include the authority to adjudicate on the content or quality of questions asked and answers given in the Chamber. Such a power would, in any event, be inconsistent with the requirement for the Speaker to act impartially, since it would necessarily be a political act. The most that the Speaker can do is to remind the House of the purpose and expected form of questions and answers, and to exhort Members and Ministers to bear this in mind. Ultimately, Members take responsibility for their own choice of words and you may therefore wish to draw your concerns directly to the attention of the Prime Minister.
Mr Speaker thanks you for taking the time to write in with your kind words and feedback.
Jade Knight | Secretary to the Speaker’s Secretary
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
It was worth a go I suppose!