If the purpose of the first few Prime Minister’s Questions sessions that a new leader faces is to assert their authority, both over the Opposition and their new party, then Theresa May managed that today. She didn’t do it with a great deal of panache, though: the Prime Minister was much less fluent and confident today than she was in her all-conquering first stint at the Dispatch Box before the summer. Her scripted jokes sounded a little less comfortable and natural, too. But she managed to give good responses to Jeremy Corbyn’s rambling questions, particularly this little lecture about the differences between the two of them:
‘I say to the right honourable gentleman this: he may have a model of society where he doesn’t want to see private landlords, where he wants to see the government owning everything, the government deliberating on everything and the government doing everything for everybody. That is not what we want. We want opportunities for people, we want to help them to take those opportunities. There’s a big difference between him and me.’
Corbyn stuck to the housing crisis – an important topic but almost as much a comfort zone issue for Labour as the NHS – and while it was an improvement that he didn’t hop from issue to issue, his questions were still insufficiently challenging, which meant that May could slip quite easily into broadcast mode and merely list what her party is doing in government, knowing Corbyn wouldn’t be quick enough to pick her up on a lack of substance in her answers.
If this had been her first performance, her party would have gone into the summer feeling rather less sure and triumphant about its new Prime Minister. Instead, this looked like the performance of someone who was emerging from their political honeymoon period – but for reasons quite unconnected to the leader of the Opposition.