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Jeremy Corbyn puts voters' questions to David Cameron in 'more adult' PMQs

Published 16/09/2015

Jeremy Corbyn told the TUC that ministers were declaring war on workers
Jeremy Corbyn told the TUC that ministers were declaring war on workers

New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attempted to bring a more "adult" tone to Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons by using his first session at the despatch box to ask David Cameron questions emailed in by members of the public.

Voters were telling him Parliament was "out of touch and too theatrical" and that they wanted their voices heard in the chamber of the Commons, he said. Some 40,000 had responded to his appeal for questions to put to Mr Cameron.

So rather than a carefully-crafted set of questions designed to catch the PM out and pre-scripted quips to get his own MPs cheering, the Islington North MP 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.

Mr Cameron welcomed the change in tone, telling his new Labour adversary that "no-one would be more delighted than me" if PMQs could become a "genuine exercise in asking questions and answering questions".

He wished the Labour leader well in his job, telling him: "I know we will have many strong disagreements ... but where we can work together in the national interest we should do so."

Mr Corbyn - dressed in a light brown jacket and gold-coloured tie and peering over his glasses at the Tory benches - thanked the PM for his commitment to answering questions "in a more adult way than it's been done in the past".

And Mr Cameron largely abandoned attempts to skewer his opponent over recent negative headlines, passing over the opportunity to castigate him for his widely-criticised failure to sing the National Anthem at Tuesday's Battle of Britain service in St Paul's Cathedral

Mr Corbyn insisted he "did not see a problem" with his actions and Labour said he would sing God Save the Queen at future occasions. But shadow cabinet member Kerry McCarthy said he should have sung the anthem to "avoid all the fuss".

Despite the sober tone of the Commons encounter, Mr Cameron did not entirely resist the opportunity to go on the attack, repeatedly warning that the high-quality public services which Mr Corbyn demanded would not be affordable without a strong economy.

"We will not have a strong NHS unless we have a strong economy, and if the Labour Party is going to go down the route of unlimited spending, unlimited borrowing, unlimited tax rates, printing money, they will wreck the economic security of our country and the family security of every family in our country," Mr Cameron told MPs.

On defence, Mr Cameron said it was "deeply regrettable" that Labour were turning away from Nato membership and the Trident nuclear deterrent. Mr Corbyn should " get a map out and have a look at Sierra Leone" if he wanted to see a good use for British troops, he said.

And his response to a question from Northern Irish MP Nigel Dodds left little doubt that the PM was seeking to draw attention to controversy over past comments on the Troubles by Mr Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

Paying tribute to former Conservative MPs Airey Neave and Ian Gow, who were murdered by Republican terrorists, Mr Cameron said: "I have a simple view, which is the terrorism we faced was wrong, it was unjustifiable, the death and the killing was wrong. It was never justified and people who seek to justify it should be ashamed of themselves."

Labour denied that the new approach gave Mr Cameron an easy ride by making it difficult to pin the Prime Minister down on a particular issue.

"The questions were very direct and they demanded clear answers," a Labour source said.

Marie from south London - the author of the first crowd-sourced question - proclaimed Mr Corbyn the winner of the parliamentary clash.

She told LBC: "The front bench Conservative Party did not look happy bunnies today. They looked as if they had just been told they were for the pot."

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