Jeremy Corbyn clearly doesn’t like playing the Westminster game. The Privy Council, PMQs, press briefings, media strategy; all of this is not high on his agenda as far as being a leader of a major political party is concerned. He’d sooner be part of system that actually worked, that depended on substance, and not presentation.
I would hazard a guess that this disdain comes from the realisation that the Westminster game is a tiresome old load of rubbish, a game that only exits because that’s how it is and that’s how it’s been for a long time. Witness his attitude to the ludicrous Privy Council. When he was elected leader of the Labour Party you could sense his unease with the whole notion of meeting the unelected monarch and ‘her’ committee to get ‘sworn in’.
There is nothing democratic or open about the council, and if you ever tried to read the minutes of one of their meetings you’d see it’s just an utterly pathetic exercise in obsequiousness. Corbyn has every right to mistrust such a body. But of course, until he joins it formally he could not be classed as a ‘right honourable’ member of parliament. And the press were very quick to suggest that his reluctance to kiss the hand of the monarch was unacceptable. How dare he not bow before the unelected head of state? It’s disgusting! Bloody communist! But as far as realpolitik is concerned, the thing that must have him rolling his eyes is Prime Minister’s Questions.
Every Wednesday Corbyn stands there and does his best with the cards he’s been given, to hold the government to account. And since the days of Harold Wilson and Edward Heath it’s allowed to get more racuous and bad-tempered, with MPs shouting, waving bits of paper about and generally behaving like idiots. It really isn’t the way that a supposed democratic country should work, but like everything else to do with our failed system, it’s not democracy, but the illusion of democracy, that counts.
Since 2003 we’ve had the spectacle of a weekly 30-minute slot of point-scoring and answer avoidance. This is what Corbyn hates about it; it’s all drama and completely without substance. Naturally if it changed anything they’d scrap it, but this isn’t about being accountable to the people; it’s about getting your political message across and answering the question you heard in your head and not the one that came from someone’s mouth. At Corbyn’s first PMQ's as leader of the opposition, David Cameron was apparently amazed that Corbyn wasn’t shaking with nerves. Of course not, David. Because unlike you he’s been around the political block a few times, and you came straight from Eton to Oxford, thence to PR. Corbyn has a view of the world that is about a thousands times more evolved than Cameron's.
Corbyn has tried his best to do something about this ridiculous state of affairs: he’s taken questions from the public; he’s he’s tried to get Cameron and May to answer questions properly with certain follow-up questions; he has frequently made references to the fact that Theresa May had failed to actually answer the previous question. Corbyn knows PMQs is a spectacular failure of accountability on the part of the executive. But to the government this is ideal: it means they can present answers – and policies – using a few meaningless soundbites and phrases, and with the added measure of insulting, patronising and demeaning a man who just wants to hold government to account with the very limited means at his disposal. Corbyn’s approach is grown up, dignified, calm. Theresa May seems to have taken lessons in nastiness, vindictiveness and arrogance.
But many times we see mainstream media types penning their thoughts on that particular Wednesday’s PMQ's and how both sides fared. That’s what it’s come down to – an exercise in media management and presentation. Democracy, accountability and scrutiny don’t actually get a look in. And it gets even worse than that. Witness May trying to crack prepared jokes. It’s not just embarrassing, it’s humiliating. And as a citizen of the UK who cares about holding government to account, it’s totally unacceptable. People are dying in underfunded hospitals, are suffering through unnecessary austerity measures, and taking the brunt of government cuts, and all May can do it crack some appalling jokes. It really is utterly pathetic.
And yet this is what the government and its many friends in the media love to push: the notion that the complex world of UK politics should be based solely on a half an hour of unfunny theatrical slogans and media-rehearsed jokes. It’s like arriving in a foreign country and judging their cuisine on the Burger King outlet at the airport. Politics is far too important to be left to these idiots and their ideological televised oneupmanship. Jeremy Corbyn knows that, and all voters should too.
Max Webster is the editor of Political Provocateur