Jeremy Corbyn labelled a ‘f***ing disaster’ after letting Cameron off the hook at PMQs
David Cameron has just experienced one of his worst ever weeks as prime minister. A senior member of his Cabinet resigned over government cuts to disability benefits. Meanwhile Cameron's right-hand man, George Osborne, faced calls to resign for his botched handling of the Budget, while Tory MPs told journalists the prime minister himself would face a leadership challenge this year.
Cameron's terrible week didn't let up today. As prime minister's questions began this afternoon, disabled protesters stormed the central lobby in parliament, with some shouting "Cameron killer" towards the chamber. With polls showing support for the Tories in decline and with the government's budget falling apart by the day, you would probably assume the prime minister would have an incredibly hard time of it at today's PMQs. You may even have been willing to place large amounts of your own hard-earned money on the possibility.
Lively protest in Parliament, but can't see it on BBC thanks to "Rules & Conditions" says woman in Medieval costume. pic.twitter.com/orHk99jBk3
— Chris Ogilvie (@54north) March 23, 2016
But far from being put under pressure by the leader of the opposition, David Cameron actually had one of the easiest PMQs he has ever faced. And incredibly it was Jeremy Corbyn who was made to look like the man whose job is now most under threat.
It's hard to overstate how poorly Corbyn did today. On the face of it there was little wrong with the questions he put to Cameron. He asked the prime minister to answer for the government's cruel cuts to disability benefits and called on him to tackle the growing homelessness crisis. On PIP cuts Cameron acknowledged that "when you have to make [big] spending reductions you do not get every decision right", while on homelessness he acknowledged there had been a rise but said that numbers were lower than they had been at their peak under Labour.
This was as bad as it ever got for the prime minister. From that moment onwards he never once looked under even the slightest amount of pressure.
The reason for this reprieve is mostly to do with the leak this morning of a list drawn up by somebody close to Corbyn, showing which Labour MPs are "hostile" or "negative" towards the Labour leader. This gave Cameron the perfect opportunity to deflect each and every attack made against him. No matter what question came from Corbyn or other Labour MPs, the prime minister responded with references to whether the questioner was judged to be in the "core group negative" or the "core group plus". At one point Cameron noted that he very much counted himself as a member of the latter group. After yet another mention of the list he added: "And I thought I had problems."
Cameron's mocking manner at PMQs is often horribly misjudged and if Corbyn were quicker on his feet he could have countered that it was distasteful for the prime minister to be waving lists about and cracking gags, while they were discussing the serious matters of disabled people having their benefits slashed and homeless people being forced to sleep on the streets.
Unfortunately it's become increasingly clear that Corbyn is simply incapable of making that kind of adjustment. Even today, after a week in which he faced severe criticism from his own MPs for failing to mention Iain Duncan Smith during his response statement in the House on Monday, Corbyn again failed to make a single direct reference to the former work and pensions secretary. The closest he got was one vague mention of the "disarray" in Cameron's Cabinet. The exact nature of that disarray was left to the viewers' imagination.
As the session ended, one "hostile" Labour MP John Woodcock posted a tweet labelling the session a "fucking disaster," adding: "Worse week for Cameron since he came in and that stupid fucking list makes us into a laughing stock."
The tweet was hastily deleted with Woodcock suggesting that it had been intended as a private message to a colleague. But whoever the intended recipient, the accuracy of Woodcock's sentiment cannot be questioned.
@johnprescott I was sharing frustration with a colleague, ineptly. U might think all fine, we despairing at way Tories getting away with it
— John Woodcock (@JWoodcockMP) March 23, 2016
In the past few hours Labour supporters have accused Corbyn's "hostile" critics within the party of leaking the list to the Times. This may or may not be true, although interestingly the Evening Standard reports that the list may have been accidentally leaked due to Team Corbyn's own incompetence.
But whatever the source of the leak, it confirms that Labour are at least as divided as the Tories currently are, if not even more so. Divisions within a party are always dangerous, but they are survivable as long as the party leader still appears to have at least some control over, and respect from, his own MPs. Cameron's performance today proves that he still does have that basic control over his party. Jeremy Corbyn's performance today suggests that he doesn't.