Jeremy Corbyn v David Cameron at first PMQs: A more "adult" discussion from Labour's new leader

James Nickerson
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Corbyn's first time at the dispatch box (Source: Parliament TV)

The eagerly-awaited showdown between Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron was surprising in its timidity.

Corbyn, previously promising a different kind of Prime Minister's Questions, was met by a Cameron willing to accommodate what Corbyn called a "more adult way".

Corbyn began by recanting how he previously sent an email asking people to submit questions to him to put to Cameron, which drew over 40,000 responses. “But the rules limit us to six.”

So Corbyn started on housing: "What does the government plan to do by the chronic lack of affordable housing?"

Cameron, welcoming Corbyn to the exchanges and the strong disagreements they will encounter, urged working together in the national interest. "If we can change PMQs, nobody would be more delighted than me."

And replying: “We delivered 260,000 affordable housing units in the last parliament, we built more council houses than in the previous 13 years, but I recognise more needs to be done. But much more needs to be done, reforming the planning system, encouraging development and supporting aspirations of people to buy their own home. We won’t get Britain building unless we keep the economy growing."

Read more: Prime Minister's Questions is a British institution that deserves defending

But when met by questions on food banks, tax credits and the living wage, Cameron talked of how the economy was vital to improving standards of living. "We need an economy where work really pays". Have we heard that before?
Perhaps not surprising that it was at this point Cameron also faced a more raucous crowd, replying "I thought this was the new question time - I'm not sure the message has fully got home".
And given Corbyn has a newly appointed minister for mental health, it was only natural we would have a question on the topic: "Do you think it's acceptable the mental health services are on their knees at this time," Corbyn asked.

"This is an area we can work together," Cameron replied. "Mental health and physical health now have parity in the NHS constitution, we've introduced waiting time targets for mental health services and we've made a commitment to back putting £8bn in to mental health services - which I hope the honourable gentleman will also agree to."

But, of course, let's not forget "we will not have a strong NHS unless we have a strong economy. And if the Labour party is going to print money, they will wreck the economic security of our country and we won't be about to afford a strong NHS", Cameron added.

There were limited agreements to be had, but more civil discussions during Corbyn's time at the dispatch box. More detailed responses from Cameron, a franker discussion, less theatre. Will it last?

Well, maybe not given shortly after Corbyn sat down the heckling began again. No wonder Corbyn wanted MPs to be more a conduit for their constituents, given the hounding started when the first MP, Andrew Turner, after Corbyn to ask a question wanted a response from the Prime Minister on the topic of importing a tiger.

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