Richard Lutz says the Prime Minister will have to have change his upper class bully boy tactics once he faces new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Each Wednesday in Westminster, there is a swirl of activity for tickets to the visitors’ gallery. It’s a chance for the public to grab a look at Prime Minister’s Questions. The session, called PMQ, is hardly polite. In fact, it is so red in tooth and claw that the Speaker had to recently warn baying Parliamentarians to calm down as some of the more demure MPs said it just wasn’t worth showing up any more.
It used to be more sedate before 1990.That’s when the House Of Commons began to be televised live. But in the ensuing years, with the chance to perform for TV, it has become more and more nasty, personal, vindictive and, ultimately, void of any real content.
Prime Minister David Cameron is good at this cheap level of catty nastiness. His seamless Oxford persona, his days as a member of the university’s sneering elitist Bullingdon Club (ex-members include George Osborne, currently number two in the government, and flamboyant London mayor Boris Johnson) have given him loads of experience at braying personalised attacks at those sitting across the House from him.
Usually, the opposition spokesmen were sadly drawn into this petty quid pro quo barrage of attack. Ed Milliband, before his defeat, succumbed and usually came out second best. And former Labour boss Gordon Brown, when he faced Cameron, often resembled a grumpy wounded bear hounded by the yapping snapping coyote of David Cameron on the opposition benches.
But with Corbyn, the newest opposition Labour leader, it could be different. He will not play the Bullingdon game of low, cheap personal shots.
He has said as much. And there is something about his stubborn grit, whatever you think of his principles, that says he ain’t going to hit low. He knows it may not only raise the level of lamentable debate during PMQ but also neutralise one of Cameron’s greatest strengths.
Cameron knows this. It goes without saying that the Prime Minister is probably holed up in Downing Street with a trusted advisor or two right now wondering how to handle Corbyn – a man who also wants to let his new Shadow Cabinet field PMQ onslaughts (shock/horror) or lead on questions gleaned from supporters outside Parliament (chapter 2: shock/horror).
It is as if Corbyn is ready, through procedural iconoclasm or sheer bloody-mindedness, to re-write the self imposed rules on PMQ.
This is what Cameron’s team worry about: if the PM goes for the snide comments and Corbyn does not respond, Cameron may look petulant, a bullying Etonian sneering at the man across the Commons. Cameron would come out second best in the weekly bunfight, looking shallow, cheap, snide.
And here’s another thing they worry about: there is nothing a bully hates more than being ignored.
We may find that Cameron just may play it cool, not go for the teenage nastiness that has sadly stained the current level of PMQ debate in the last years. He may stick, in other words, to answering questions. He may have to grow up.