The Tories at prime ministers’ questions were particularly nasty today. They hate Labour and despise Jeremy Corbyn – and so they booed throughout prime ministers’ questions, particularly when Corbyn asked yet again about cuts to tax credits.
David Cameron – at his arrogant worst – was unable to conceal his basic contempt. At the end of the session today he could be heard complaining that it was ‘getting longer and longer’.
The Tories may be frustrated that the Lords and their small majority in the House of Commons are forcing compromises on policy. A government that wants to slash tax credits and cut the National Health Service, must find the democratic process a fantastic bore. But the proposed laws are not just left-wing concerns, they worry lots of people including members of parliament across the political spectrum. Corbyn understood this.
Consider this early exchange when Cameron really got it wrong in his answer on tax credits. The Tories were jeering and Cameron was smirking. He said: ‘In exactly three weeks’ time I will be able to answer that question. If he wants to spend the next five questions asking it all over again, I’m sure he’ll find that very entertaining and interesting, how it fits with the new politics, I’m not quite sure, but over to you.’
‘Mr Speaker, this isn’t about entertainment’, said Corbyn giving his trademark school teacher look. ‘This is not funny for people who are desperately worried about what is going to happen next April.’
It is remembrance Sunday this week, and Corbyn did not hesitate to use it. ‘I have a question’, he said, ‘from Kieran, a veteran of the first gulf war’. He, said Corbyn, had written to him saying he was in ‘fear and trepidation about how we are going to get by’. Is this how the government treats veterans of the armed services?’ A serving private with two children and a partner was set to lose more than £2000 next April he revealed.
This threw Cameron a bit. His attack line – which it took him a minute of two to think up was crude: ‘That serving soldier wouldn’t have a job if the honourable gentleman ever got anywhere near power’.
Cameron’s response to Corbyn’s questions over whether there would be a winter crisis in the NHS this year was equally dismissive, not least because he answered a question Corbyn did not ask about junior doctors and NHS resources.
Cameron was equally foxed by Corbyn’s question: ‘Which is rising faster NHS waiting lists or NHS deficits?’
‘It is the Labour party’, he said, ‘which is facing a winter crisis. He’s appointed a media adviser who is a Stalinist, a policy adviser who is a Trotskyist and an economics adviser who is a communist. If he’s trying to move the Labour party to the left, I’d give him full marks!’
It was not an edifying performance and it allowed Corbyn to play, to great effect, the honest everyman. Even Corbyn’s scrambled grammar – he talked about the NHS being ‘in a problem’ made him seem more genuine.
The other big revelation of prime minister’s questions was that Channel 4 might be privatised. In answer to a question from a Scottish National party MP John Nicolson (East Dumbartonshire), Cameron said that ‘all options’ were on the table ‘including private investment’.
As for Labour, Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) asked about police cuts in Lancashire about which he said there was cross party concern. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) revealed she went to Cheltenham Ladies college where she said, as at Eton, there was lots of investment in music, dance, arts, and drama – so why had the schools where 93 per cent of the country’s children were educated cut teachers in these subjects?
There were also questions about veteran pensions and the military covenant. Labour MP David Anderson (Blaydon) asked about the lack of compensation for asbestosis for Royal Navy veterans – who are only entitled to £31,000 – whereas those affected because of jobs in private industry were set to get £150,000.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) asked a provocative question about the 633 bravest and best who died ‘as a result of two political mistakes’ in Iraq and Afghanistan. He asked Cameron to rethink his plan to order more soldiers to put their lives on the line in a four-sided civil war in Syria.
This prime minister’s questions was a win of sorts for Corbyn. The whole session 4.