Thursday 17 September 2015
This is the New Politics - And its very boring
The walking gaffe machine that is the Corbyn Collective pitched up at The House of Commons for Prime Minister's Question time. The Corbynites have so far managed one serious PR error a day.
So the media and politicians were wondering just what unforced error the old hippy that leads the Labour Party would do today.
Turn up without any shoes? Have a Hammer and Sickle badge over his poppy? Yell himself into one of his trademark tantrums over the aching poverty of Tory rule.
But .. in fact .. nothing happened at all.
The Politburo of Old Labour decided on a new type of politics, The People's President would ask questions posed by the people themselves. General Secretary Jeremy had solicited questions from his legions of supporters. From the many he received, and he claimed to have had 40,000, he chose six. Six questions that would hold the government to account.
And not in the pre-revolutionary, capitalist-imperialist style either. But in the considered, reflective style of a left wing campus. No shouting and jeering here. Simply a collection of six, unrelated questions for David Cameron to pontificate on. Questions from and Joan & John Q Public, that would shame the government into changing its ideology devoid ways.
One by one, he read out queries from Marie on housing, Steven on rents, Paul on tax credits, Claire on benefit thresholds, and Gail and Angela on mental health.
And mightily dull it was too.
David Cameron said he welcomed Mr Corbyn's new , less theatrical style of PMQs. And we can believe him. Because he no longer has to spend days rehearsing his answers..or even the non answers he used to give to Miliband.
He can just wait each week for Corbyn to read out, in his drizzly day delivery style, a set of phone-in topics from a radio show.
Kim in Hammersmith says the NHS is underfunded. Ahmed from Leeds says he can only get a zero hours contract... Aleysha thinks the buses should run more frequently.
And Cameron can answer any way he wishes. Because the danger at PMQs is not the question. But the follow up question, after an answer has been given. Or in being made to shift ground when he didn't wish too. To concede a point, however trivial, is a victory for the opposition.
The old idea at PMQ's, under the party formerly known as the Opposition Labour party, was to fox the coalition. To get Cameron to give a commitment. A denial. Even a vague pledge, that Labour could file away and use against him sometime in the future.
Or they could reel off statistics, or newspaper coverage of damaging government department figures or rifts. Point out inconsistencies in government claims. Hints of splits could be probed to test their depth.
Or the opposition leader could quote from his own favourite think-tanks or charity or Quango.
Occasionally the opposition could set a trap.
Miliband's Syria retreat, for example.
They can pledge their own, alternative, policy to undermine the government's. An energy freeze promise. Or ask the government to support one of their ideas, that has some public support, but the government of the day won't go near. Hacked Off style pressure grouping.
The opposition must uncover government weakness. And exploit it.
And one of the ways to achieve that exploitation is to barrage the Prime Minister with similar questions and to probe his responses with further follow ups that hint he is misinformed. Or out of touch. Uncaring. Or just plain lying.
Corbyn's no dynamic speaker. He couldn't ignite a crowd of firelighters with his dreary tones. His power is in his message. Tell them what they want to believe. What he sincerely believes. Tell them what they want to hear.
He decided to give that away. He guessed that by using 'the public' to ask his questions for him, Cameron could not risk simply dismissing them. Cameron would be forced..FORCED..to answer to the People! And that did happen. A little bit. But it will happen a lot less next time. And not at all the one after that.
On this occasion, which was the first skirmish, Cameron just answered as he usually does with his fairly, easy playing tennis style. He can hit a zinger over the net if he needs. But he is content to simply lob the easy balls back over the net until the clock runs out. And Cameron is, and always has been, very good at this style of dispatch box politics. Its where he appears a leader. Unruffled. Unworried. Unconcerned. The opposition need to get under his skin. That's when he fumbles.
Today was so effortless for Cameron his barley water would have remained untouched.
He left it to his own MPs questions to do the attacking.
Comrade Corbyn probably wanted to try this 'new way'. Has probably believed in a more reasoned debate for decades. His advisers probably thought that it would soften the expected blows against him and agreed. Forgetting PMQs isn't a cozy debating chamber. Its an arena.
So all that actually happened was not much. Corbyn read out some emails and Cameron replied to them much as a customer service department might.
"Thank you for your concerns. Your call is important to us and you are being placed in a queue..In the meantime ..please hold..Did you know that we are now the fastest growing economy in Europe? For more information about how good we are... press one. ...to hear about any other of our super range of fantastic services and achievements, press two.."
PMQ's isn't just about the enemy either. It's about rallying your own troops. Demonstrating that the opponent is on the run. Demoralising the adversary's back benchers whilst lifting your own. Making their leader look incompetent, evasive or untrustworthy. While you look impressive and statesmanlike. Its the opportunity, one of the few public ones, that the opposition leader gets to make themselves heard and to have their performance rated, applauded and evaluated by the political press.
Having "Edna from Edmonton" ask the question isn't going to do that. The quiet on the benches isn't going to excite anyone.
This 'New Politics.' This Crowd Sourced, Micro-politics.
Its even more boring than it sounds.