Jeremy Corbyn raised his game at his second PMQs, yet had a harder time of it. His mission is to tame the hooligans: in the House of Commons a difficult task, for there are so many of them about.
His method is to apply moral pressure. Corbyn’s manner is that of a new geography teacher, who intends to restore discipline by shaming the most disruptive members of the class into silence.
So he told them about Kelly, a single mother with a disabled child, who next April will be £1,800 worse off because of the loss of tax credits, and about Matthew, who has a housing problem. And Corbyn had the good sense to ask some follow-up questions, which on his first outing he had not done.
The hooligans knew they could not laugh at Kelly, but were not quite so sure about Matthew. They began to titter, so Corbyn reproved them: “This might be funny for some members but it’s not funny for Matthew and many others.”
But the chief hooligan, as far as Corbyn is concerned, is David Cameron, and he is a tougher nut to crack. For the language of moral seriousness comes quite naturally to this most Anglican of Prime Ministers. How grateful he was to Corbyn for raising such serious matters. He could have been the local vicar welcoming the local nonconformist minister into his church for a bit of inter-faith dialogue.
And how shameless he was at stealing Corbyn’s clothes once the Leader of the Opposition had sat down and could no longer defend himself. As the Prime Minister put it, in a tone of triumph: “When we find a good Labour policy, we implement it.”
Cameron followed this up with a savage blow: “Tonight, we’re implementing what was until a week ago a Labour policy.” How the hooligans on the Tory benches loved that reference to Labour’s U-turn on the deficit. “More, more, more,” they cried.
Even Tom Watson, a man more than capable of attaining a high level of shamelessness, looked uncomfortable as he sat, stiff and portly, on the front bench. It’s going to be hard to deal with a Conservative Government so unscrupulous that it appropriates Labour policies.
When the difficulties of the Opposition are contemplated, too little attention is paid to these blatant acts of theft by Cameron and by George Osborne, which even extend to carrying off some of the most intelligent and useful of Labour’s people, such as Lord Adonis of Camden Town.
At the far end of the Chamber, unobserved by the wider world, sat a man who might make a good Labour leader. He had selected a place as far from Corbyn as he could find, and talked with his usual civility to the obscure backbenchers around him. Let us not spoil things for him by naming him.