LONDON (AP) Newly elected Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday made good on his promise to introduce a new tone to the usually raucous “prime minister’s question time” that has become a staple of British democracy even though it often devolves into a shouting match.
Instead of playing “gotcha” with Prime Minister David Cameron, the new opposition leader appealed to the public for questions to put to the prime minister, then asked them in a quiet, calm way that invited a measured response, not a one-line riposte.
Making his first appearance at the Wednesday sessions, just four days after his convincing victory in the Labour Party leadership contest, Corbyn called for an end to the sometimes rude and stagy confrontations between the British government and opposition.
“Many told me that they thought PMQs was too theatrical, that Parliament was out of touch and too theatrical and they wanted things done differently,” said Corbyn, announcing his new approach.
The questions he chose from the public included queries about the chronic lack of affordable housing, the “extortionate” rent charged by some private landlords and the quality of mental health care offered Britons.
The 66-year-old veteran left-winger represents a sharp break with the Labour Party’s steadfast movement toward the political center, a strategy that helped it win three consecutive national elections under Tony Blair.
He has broken with Labour Party orthodoxy in several ways, some of substance, others of style.
Unlike recent party leaders, he staunchly rejects the government’s austerity plan, characterizing it as unfair and counterproductive.
He does not support the monarchy, preferring that Britain become a republic, and on Sunday he did not sing the national anthem “God Save the Queen” at a memorial event honoring World War II fighter pilots.
That angered some tabloid newspapers, whose editors accused him of insulting 89-year-old Queen Elizabeth II, and sowed confusion Wednesday when Corbyn several times refused to say explicitly during a Sky TV interview that he would sing the anthem at future events, saying only that he would participate fully.
A party spokesman quickly tried to douse that fire, saying that Corbyn had meant to say he would indeed sing the anthem in future.
Corbyn also doesn’t dress like most male politicians: He wore dark slacks and a tan sports coat and tie for “question time,” eschewing the blue business suit and brightly colored tie that have become the unofficial dress code for British politicians going on TV.
Cameron congratulated Corbyn on winning the Labour Party leadership contest that concluded Saturday with a landslide victory for the unorthodox candidate.
He said he would be delighted if prime minister’s questions became a more serious forum for posing and answering questions.
But old habits die hard: A question posed by a member of the Scottish National Party quickly turned into a familiar mudslinging match.
And talk turned, perhaps inevitably, to less weighty matters when Cameron, in response to questioning about a tiger, said that a rhino in a wildlife park in his constituency had been named after his daughter Nancy.