New UK Labour chief Corbyn faces acid test in parliament

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

Radical leftwinger Jeremy Corbyn will on Wednesday engage in direct combat with David Cameron for the first time since becoming leader of the Labour Party at parliament’s weekly Prime Minister’s Questions.

All eyes will be on 66-year-old Corbyn, who came in for a barrage of criticism in the British press on Wednesday for not singing the national anthem “God Save the Queen” during a memorial service.

Political observers will be watching how Corbyn, who was elected by a landslide over the weekend, matches up against the prime minister in the bear pit of “PMQs” and for clues as to his leadership style.

Although a veteran of the House of Commons, Corbyn has only experienced the raucous weekly ritual — described by critical MPs as being “worse than the schoolyard” — from the sanctuary of the backbenches.

He will get six questions to ask the prime minister, although has hinted he may share them out among his senior shadow cabinet colleagues in future.

Not known for his oratory or debating skills, Corbyn faces a tough debut against Cameron, who has already debated against four different Labour leaders during 10 years’ experience of PMQs, easily the most-watched weekly event in parliament.

The new leader revealed he had “crowd sourced” ideas for questions, and had received more than 30,000 suggestions.

– ‘Less theatre’ –

The session will help make clear if Corbyn intends to stick to his far-left ideals now in a position of power, and which issues will form the basis of his opposition.

Early indications suggest that he will attack the Conservative government over housing, trade unions and inequality.

Corbyn has called for more civility during the session, echoing comments by Commons speaker John Bercow.

“I want PMQs to be done in a rather different way — a bit less theatre and a bit more facts,” he said.

Bercow said that the British public “want there to be robust argument and inquiry, they don’t want there to be a ritualistic shouting match every Wednesday lunchtime.”

Any doubts Corbyn had about the scrutiny he would now face have been dispelled in a rollercoaster first few days in charge.

His choice of shadow cabinet was initially criticised for not containing enough women in senior roles and even his own party questioned the appointment of far-left ally John McDonnell in the key role as shadow finance minister.

The pacifist and republican also came under fire after he declined to sing the national anthem at a service for veterans of World War II in London on Tuesday.

Centre-right publications The Sun and Daily Telegraph both ran with front-page headline “Corbyn snubs the Queen” while the Times splashed “Veterans open fire after Corbyn snubs anthem” across its front page.

“Labour’s leader turned up dishevelled at the Battle of Britain service and stood in mute silence as everyone sang ‘God Save the Queen’,” said the Sun’s editorial.

“He delighted a few thousand giggling Twitter users — and alienated millions of voters”, it added.

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