Veteran left winger and new Labour leader asks crowd-sourced questions in an attempt to wrong-foot the PM
Today marked the climax of an important week indeed for British Politics. The Labour Party has its first left-wing leader since the 1970s, the press and the electorate are still trying to decide how they feel about it (aside from Rupert Murdoch’s empire, which has a bias that continues to astound), and he is already breaking all the rules.
Yesterday he attended the Battle of Britain memorial, along with all the usual political heavyweights, looking in a class of his own in an open-necked shirt, tieless, and with a beard to rival Dumbledore. Having spent over 20 years in Labour’s awkward squad, at the fringe of politics, he has yet to form a concrete media strategy, and so is bound to occasionally put his foot in his mouth. On this occasion he failed to sing the national anthem, and this morning the national press had a field day. Headlines like “Corbyn insults Queen at memorial” ran amock. His principled stand, as a republican and a pacifist, to choose to remember the dead in silence rather than to praise their patriotic endeavour, is not only entirely reasonable but also entirely tedious. This was not news, and it was certainly not more important than the Tories’ £4bn tax credit cut, which was implemented yesterday after a quelled rebellion, but I’d imagine that it sold a few more papers.
Regardless, today Corbyn took to the dispatch box for his first Prime Minister’s Question time; a real opportunity to show how he plans to deal with the Tories for the rest of the parliament. His response to the challenge was odd but effective, although twitter would indicate that he has split the public. He chose, rather than to engage in gladiatorial name-calling with the PM as is usual, to put crowd-sourced question forward for Cameron to respond to. He raised questions from Marie, Angela, Gail, Clare and others on mental health support, tax credit cuts, and housing association rents.
This crowd-sourcing idea was novel, but clever. It denied Cameron the ability to abuse question and questioner, as he would have risked offending a voter on live TV. It allowed Corbyn to dictate the direction of the debate, and to paint the PM into a corner. We were all waiting for the killer blow that never came, but perhaps Corbyn is simply warming up.
Either way, Westminster politics is unlikely to be the same again. MPs across the spectrum will be begging their parties to give them free reign, to take their ties off and answer questions with clarity and honesty in an attempt to compete with him. The Tories will plot, as will Labour backbenchers and the remnants of New Labour. The Greens will likely collapse. And in 2020 Corbyn will either tear down the Government or tear apart his own party.