The hedging Euroscepticism of David Cameron and Boris Johnson

David Cameron, September 2014 by Gareth Milner, and Boris Johnson, July 2013 by Ian Burt

It has been an odd day for the impending referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, at least for those who thought they had firm backing from at least some top Tories.

First off David Cameron, the prime minister who is predicted to lead the campaign for Britain to remain within the EU, told businessmen at a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference that:

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Tony Abbott has a surprisingly nuanced view on Islamic militancy

Guildhall, City of London, March 2015 by DncnH

Some of you may still remember Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister who was turfed out by his old buddy Malcolm Turnbull in a brutal political coup back in September.

At the end of October, and presumably with a lighter schedule, Abbott spoke at the Second Annual Margaret Thatcher Lecture at the Guildhall in the City of London, the seat of the shady body that runs the capital’s financial borough.

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Ruder, probing Corbyn ruffles Cameron at second PMQs bout

Jeremy Corbyn, PMQs, October 2015 by BBC

If the first round of Jeremy Corbyn’s “people’s prime minister’s questions” was regarded by journalists as a bit of a flop, his refined approach for the second bout looked much stronger.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Labour leader began his six questions as leader of the opposition by reading out an email from a single mum of a disabled child Kelly, who works more than 40 hours each week and is paid £7.20 per hour.

If all this sounds like a lamentable conference speech from Corbyn’s predecessor Ed Miliband do not be fooled. For Corbyn’s deployment of this question was explicitly to attack Cameron for his government’s revising of tax credits, which both the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Treasury admit will make people worse off in the short-run.

A pregnant pause in the question in which Corbyn glared at the government benches showed the problems the Tories will have in countering such tactics, which combine anecdotes with statistics. Whilst the latter will be at Cameron’s fingertips, the former will not be so close to hand. And it’s harder for Tories to jeer voters than Labour pols.

Following the advice of many pundits after his first attempt at PMQs, Corbyn followed up his email reading with further interrogation, even embracing the rudeness he initially claimed to avoid. “The prime minister’s doing his best, and I admire that,” he deadpanned at one stage, to approval from his side of the House.

This is not quite “the new approach”, to use the same term that Cameron did as he sought to silence jeers from the opposition benches. Indeed the end result was somewhere in the middle of the ear-damaging bellows that used to dominate the entirety of PMQs and the silence that greeted Corbyn’s first session at the head of Labour.

Whilst this will not appease those that see the behaviour of the politicians in these sessions as childish, it will play rather better on television and radio, and not allow Cameron the free hits he was given last time round as Corbyn slowly read through one email after another.

(There is also, in my view, something appalling about MPs sitting in silence no matter what is being said by the government or a speaker. Some jeers are richly deserved.)

For his part Cameron tried to smear Corbyn with the chaos of Labour’s approach to the fiscal charter from earlier this week, saying:

“Now tonight the Labour party has a choice. A week ago they were committed to getting the deficit down and running a surplus just like us. But for some reason – I know not why – they’ve decided to do a 180 degree turn and vote for more borrowing forever.”

Corbyn’s performance at PMQs will not affect the difficulties he is likely to have with poorer voters sceptical of migration, nor Blairites and those on the left who are willing to accept more private sector involvement in delivering public services.

But at least in the one session of the Commons every hack pays attention to he looks competent, astute, and on the side of the poor he aspires to represent. At least for now the rebel Corbyn is starting to play the game.

Image Credit – Jeremy Corbyn, PMQs, October 2015 by BBC

Tim Farron fixates on Britain’s housing crisis as Lib Dem conference draws to close

Tim Farron at Lib Dem Conference, September 2015

Fleet Street’s political hacks have treated the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth this week as something of a joke, noting that the party has a mere eight MPs following a crushing defeat in the polls at May.

Yet as Tim Farron seeks to turn the party around positioning will be key, and a first political party broadcast from the new leader may well set the tone for the coming months and years in opposition:

Farron has long been placed on the social democratic side of the party, as opposed to the more classically liberal side occupied by previous leader Nick Clegg as his cohort known as the Orange Bookers.

As such the new leader’s bid to focus on Britain’s ongoing housing crisis is more in keeping with his flank, with the video emphasising Farron’s softly spoken approach with phrases such as “a level of housing need” in place of franker expression.

Whether the Lib Dems would build 300,000 houses even if they were in power is debatable – much of Britain is wrapped up in excessive planning laws regarding listed buildings, protected views and green belts – but the focus is interesting.

This week Farron has promised to move his party into the space he believes has been vacated by Labour under its hard left leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Unfortunately he must also work to disassociate his party from the Tories, whose toxicity ensured many lefties switched from voting Lib Dem to Labour or Greens, helping to seal mass losses in South West England and South London.

Farron’s belief that his party could be back in power by 2020 is at odds with Menzies Campbell, who puts the recovery at ten years. But at least for the party both assume the much rumoured extinction of the Lib Dems is overhyped.

Image Credit – Tim Farron at Lib Dem Conference, September 2015

First Corbyn vs Cameron PMQs clash bemuses hacks as leaders behave respectfully

PMQs September 16 2015 via BBC Parliament

The first prime minister’s questions (PMQs) since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader was the most anticipated political event since the North Islington MP surged past his leadership rivals in the polls.

Yet in the event Corbyn’s strategy of crowdsourcing questions from his supporters was fielded respectfully (and perhaps even gratefully) by prime minister David Cameron, who calmly knocked each one back to a largely silent Commons.

For some this is PMQs as it should be, minus the usual jeering and braying from the Commons that arouses such distaste from the members of the public regularly canvassed by journalists.

For others the steady plodding of questions on topics such as housing and welfare made the session more like a phone-in show:

And some were not happy with Corbyn’s lack of response to Cameron, who was left largely free to answer the questions without challenge from the leader of the opposition, whose main role is to, well, “oppose” the government.

Perhaps most importantly for the public relations war surrounding PMQs, Cameron was not prompted to the sneery anger that many observers believe shows him at his least sympathetic, evoking the fictional school bully Flashman from Victorian novel Tom Brown’s School Days.

Whether the good will, which was later spoiled by jeers from both Labour MPs and the Scottish National Party (SNP), will last beyond the first few weeks remains to be seen.

And whether any of it really matters that much at all is another question yet to be answered.

Image Credit – PMQs September 16 2015 via BBC Parliament