This is the way to do prime minister’s questions if you want to make sure the debate is held on your terms.

It felt a bit like Jeremy Corbyn was battering David Cameron over the head with an iron bar as pounded him six times with the same questions about tax credit cuts. It was not particularly pretty or subtle. Corbyn did not perform any fancy tricks. He did not get diverted by attacking George Osborne. He just bashed away. By doing so he demonstrated that the government and the prime minister are losing control of this issue, because Cameron had no answers to his questions.

And he made this point that this was not a constitutional crisis – the story the Tories have been trying to spin – but a crisis for the three million families who ‘don’t know what is going to happen next April’.

Interestingly, Corbyn also wore a red poppy.

The six questions, as I say, were simple. They went like this every time: ‘Will the prime minister assure us that no one will be worse off next year as a result of the tax credit cuts?’ Each time the prime minister said the country would find out in the autumn statement.

Corbyn tried to make the appeal ‘on behalf of the people of this country’, at which there started to be uproar in the chamber. Then he made the appeal on behalf of Karen, a public sector worker, worried about the money she was going to lose. He said that Michael Gove had told an interviewer there would be no tax credit cuts. Cameron had little comeback. The position seemed to be first that the chancellor had more details and, second, when pressed, that if you did not cut tax credits you would have to cut the police or the NHS to make the savings to reduce the deficit. Only when given the opportunity after the specific question about Karen was he able to list the other ‘benefits’ including higher tax thresholds and childcare that the Tories say will make up for the tax credit cuts – but won’t really.

Towards the end of this exchange the Labour benches had got in the mood and were chanting ‘Tell us, tell us’. Cameron’s best line in the whole exchange was that this looked like ‘an alliance between the unelected [House of Lords] and the unelectable [the Labour party]’.

There were many kind words from all over the House of Commons about Michael Meacher, the member of parliament who died last week. Corbyn read out a homily about politicians who compromise and who end up believing in nothing – something Meacher did not do.

Labour MPs though were interested in a whole range of interesting topics and rightly in the circumstances did not follow up on tax credits which had been done to death.

Mary Creagh, Wakefield, asked the prime minister to instruct Tory members of the European parliament to back legislation to improve carbon monoxide safety regulations across the EU following the death of Bobby and Christi Shepherd who died of carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday in Corfu in 2006.

Rupa Huq, Ealing Central and Acton, asked Cameron if he was a feminist. Yes, was the qualified answer. Ian Austin, Dudley North, stood up to say that he wanted to support ‘properly funded and significant’ devolution in the West Midlands.

Altogether a very satisfactory performance from Corbyn – and one that used his ‘ordinary man’ style to great effect.


Sally Gimson is a journalist and councillor in the London borough of Camden. She writes the PMQs on Progress column and tweets @SallyGimson