PMQs verdict: Corbyn lets Cameron get away with it as Commons descends into 'your mum' jokes

Corbyn's dress sense was targeted by Cameron during PMQs
Corbyn's dress sense was targeted by Cameron during PMQs
Ian Dunt By

Tory MPs undoubtedly enjoyed it, but this was as bad a PMQs session as David Cameron has ever delivered. He has rarely been so comprehensively unlikeable: simultaneously misleading and snobbish. But Jeremy Corbyn completely failed to stop it happening. He wasn't quick enough on his feet. And he most certainly was not well enough briefed on the issue he was debating. He let the prime minister get away with it.

The most ludicrous moment came as Cameron responded to a heckler who mentioned his mother's opposition to cuts in her local area.

"I know what my mother would say across the despatch box," the prime minister replied, pointing to Corbyn. "Put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem."

The Commons basically lost the plot after that. Some Tory MPS were literally crying with laughter. On the Labour front bench Tom Watson and Angela Eagle looked like they were trying not to smirk. The last part was effective, but the initial comments on the suit were dreadful. The sight of a rich, powerful man in an expensive suit lambasting someone for wearing a cheap one was not attractive. Chances are, Cameron will come to regret it, despite how well it went down in the chamber. It contained the unmistakeable suggestion that when the prime minister meets average Joes in public he is secretly looking down his nose at them. As with the refugee comment a few weeks ago, you felt he'd revealed a glimpse of his true character.


Corbyn struggled in response. Once the laughter died down – it took a long time – he shouted back: "My late mother would have said: 'Stand up for the principle of a free health service'." It was a moment of genuine feeling, but it did nothing to deflate the joy on the Tory benches. Some commentators I spoke to afterwards – not Corbyn supporters by any measure - said they found it principled and touching.

But that wasn't Corbyn's problem today. If Cameron's joke is seen by the public at all, it will do him damage by itself. It didn't need a Labour retort to do so. Corbyn's problem was that he wasn't on top of his brief, so he let Cameron get away with a highly misleading series of statements on weekend NHS care.

It wasn't like he didn't know it was coming. After all, he was the one who brought up the issue. He asked a question about junior doctors' contracts and health secretary Jeremy Hunt's misrepresentation of weekend mortality rates. He pointed out to the prime minister that the authors of the report upon which Hunt based his claims said it would be "rash and misleading" to "assume that they are avoidable".

Instead of accepting the way Hunt had misrepresented this evidence, Cameron doubled down on it, pretending he'd underestimated the excess weekend deaths.
There may well be a weekend effect. Some people think it's because people who go into hospital on the weekend are more seriously ill. There's a strong piece looking at the evidence on it here. Whatever it is, researchers have been clear that there is no proven causal link with the staffing levels at hospitals. The editor of the British Medical Journal accused Hunt of "misusing data to mislead the public". The head of the UK Standards Authority also attacked the health secretary. And yet here Cameron was repeating what he must surely know is nonsense.

Corbyn couldn't respond to the Cameron attack on the substance of the issue. Instead, he retreated, appealing to the health care systems in Scotland and Wales or the public support for the doctors. He was either not smart enough or not well briefed enough to be able to demonstrate quite how misleading Cameron was being.

It was a shame. Cameron said the debate was "plagued by scaremongering and inaccurate statistics", and yet he was the one responsible. This level of hypocrisy was able to go unchecked because Corbyn wasn't capable of challenging it. If it's because he did insufficient research, then he should have done more. If it's because he's not smart enough, then this is the just the first of many hypocritical attacks Cameron's going to get away with.

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