Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn brings quiet, calm manner to Parliament
Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of Britain's Labour Party, made good on his promise to introduce a more measured tone to the usually raucous 'prime minister's question time.' David Cameron welcomed a more serious forum for posing and answering questions.
Parliament TV/Courtesy via Reuters
On his first appearance at the dispatch box, Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of Britain's Labour Party, made good on his promise to introduce a more measured tone to the usually raucous "prime minister's question time."
Facing off against Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday, Corbyn 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 recognizable 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.
Corbyn's first PMQs – as it's often referred to – comes just four days after his resounding victory in the Labour Party leadership contest. Corbyn's victory owed much to his support among the party's membership and in the unions – not among the party's lawmakers themselves.
"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," Corbyn said in comments that precursed his questions.
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 offered Britons.
The 66-year-old left-winger represents a sharp break with Labour's move to the center ground of British politics over the past three decades – a strategy that many credit for the party's three straight election victories under Tony Blair from 1997.
As well as presenting a change in style, Corbyn is staunchly rejecting the government's austerity prescription for the British economy, which he slams as unfair and counterproductive.
His first few days as leader have not been smooth, most notably on Tuesday when he declined to sing the national anthem "God Save the Queen" at a memorial event honoring World War II fighter pilots. In the past, Corbyn has spoken of his desire to turn Britain into a republic.
Corbyn's insistence that he stood in respectful silence didn't cut it with a large swathe of Britain's tabloid newspapers which accused him of insulting 89-year-old Queen Elizabeth II.
Corbyn sowed confusion Wednesday when he refused to say explicitly during a Sky TV interview that he would sing the anthem at future events, saying only that he would participate fully.
A party spokesman sought to douse that fire, saying that Corbyn had meant to say he would sing the anthem in future.
Corbyn also doesn't dress like most male politicians: He wore dark slacks and a tan sports coat and tie for PMQs, eschewing the blue business suit and brightly colored tie that have become the unofficial dress code for many British politicians gearing up for TV.
Cameron congratulated 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.
But old habits die hard: A question posed by a member of the Scottish National Party quickly turned into a familiar mudslinging match.
And talk turned, perhaps inevitably, to less weighty matters when Cameron, in response to questioning about a tiger, said that a rhino in a wildlife park in his constituency had been named after his daughter Nancy.