After Corbyn’s second go at Prime Minister’s Questions, Michael Fabricant, the man many of you might know as the Tory MP with the interesting hair, took to social media to comment.
“This ‘Jackie from Abbots Bromley says’ technique is very time consuming. What about back-bench MPs who can’t get in? Corbyn can ask the question without having to name everyone. It adds nothing. They can have a voice without valuable back-bench time being wasted by Corbyn wittering on at length with preambles.”
Here’s the thing: prior to reading this stuff from Fabricant, something bothered me about Corbyn’s approach to PMQs beyond that which I’d already written about – namely, the fact that random questions from the public aren’t likely to have the timely insight available only to the leader of the opposition and those who work for him, thus the scrutiny of the government naturally suffers. No, there was something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then the Tory’s words brought it to me: Corbyn’s whole approach to PMQs thus far has been gimmicky in the extreme. And given part of Corbyn’s whole shtick is built around stripping politics clean of gimmicks so we can get down to brass tacks, this sticks in my craw just a little.
All you Corbynistas out there getting your hair in a bunch over the preceding paragraph: I don’t actually mind Corbyn taking a more civic minded approach to PMQs. But wouldn’t the clearly best and, now that we’re here, democratic way of doing this be to get his staff to sift the emails sent to look for the thing most mentioned in any one given week? So if he gets 4,000 emails with potential PMQ questions, and 800 are about the NHS, he goes with something on the NHS that combines the best of those who wrote in’s concerns with his unique insight from having been an MP for 32 years, let’s say? Instead, the “Come on down, Mary from Weston-Super-Mare! You’ve won a prize!” approach seems kind of tacky.
So to end by attempting to be constructive here: listening to the public’s concerns and then airing them at PMQs almost certainly has some value. I just think Jeremy’s got it slightly wrong at the moment. The value in it, again, is surely the democratic angle, the crowd of voices unheard, all saying the same thing. I think it could be a good thing for Corbyn and for Labour, if the approach to Prime Minister’s Questions was re-jigged a bit. For now, it really does just seem like a not very well followed through ruse.