Friday 20 April 2018

Calm Corbyn poses 'crowd-sourced' questions to Cameron in first face-off

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons yesterday
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons yesterday

Dean Gray

Jeremy Corbyn made good on his promise to introduce a more measured tone to the chaos that is 'prime minister's question time' on his first appearance at the dispatch box in the House of Commons in London yesterday.

Facing off against David Cameron, the new Labour leader asked a series of questions in a quiet and calm manner that invited a measured response, not a cutting one-line riposte.

It certainly made a change for one of the most recognisable features of British democracy, which has over the decades been nothing more than a shouting match between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.

Just four days after his resounding victory in the Labour Party leadership contest, he told the house: "Many told me that they thought PMQs was too theatrical, that parliament was out of touch and too theatrical and they wanted things done differently," Mr Corbyn said.

The questions also marked a distinct change - for the first time ever they had been "crowd-sourced" from the public. They included queries about the chronic lack of affordable housing, the "extortionate" rent charged by some private landlords and the quality of mental health care.

Mr Cameron congratulated Mr Corbyn on winning his party's leadership contest and said he would be delighted if their weekly encounter in the House of Commons became a more serious forum for posing and answering questions.

It was also announced yesterday that Mr Corbyn will sing the national anthem at the next official engagement he attends, a Labour spokesman has said.

The clarification came after Mr Corbyn said he would "show my respect in the proper way" at future events when grilled on his position.

It came after five of Mr Corbyn's own shadow cabinet ministers attacked his failure to sing the British national anthem at a memorial service on Tuesday. He was seen remaining silent at the Battle of Britain memorial service in St Paul's Cathedral as other leading politicians sung 'God Save The Queen'.

A Labour spokesman said Mr Corbyn had maintained a "respectful silence" for those that had died at the battle.

But there was outcry from former generals, veterans and Labour MPs who thought it was the wrong decision.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Corbyn said: "I was at the Battle of Britain memorial yesterday. I was there out of respect for that amazing moment in British history.

"I was also thinking about my family, my mum and dad who were there at that time in London and who worked as air raid wardens during the Blitz. I was thinking about them. It was a respectful ceremony, and I stood in respect throughout it.

"I am going to be at many events and I will take part fully in those events. I don't see a problem about this. I was there and I will show my respect in the proper way at all future events. The proper way is to take a full part in it and I will take a full part."

A Labour spokesman later confirmed that Mr Corbyn's comments meant that he would sing the anthem at future events. It came after a string of senior Labour figures openly criticised Mr Corbyn's refusal to sing the national anthem.

Shadow equalities minister Kate Green said his decision would have "offended and hurt many people".

She added: "I think it would have been appropriate and right and respectful of people's feelings to have done so."

A second senior figure, Owen Smith, the new shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "I would have advised him to sing it, yes. I would absolutely, irrespective of his views."

Both Heidi Alexander and Vernon Coaker, the shadow health and Northern Ireland secretaries, said they both would have sung the national anthem.

Irish Independent

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