Coronavirus: Sharp questions for Boris Johnson in Jeremy Corbyn's final PMQs

Mark D'Arcy
Parliamentary correspondent

  • Published
Media caption,
In his final PMQs as leader, Mr Corbyn spoke of a society that “cares for each other and cares for all”.

Jeremy Corbyn ended his 136th and final Prime Minister's Questions with one of the better performances of his leadership.

The Labour leader was sharp and to the point, raising a series of problems areas in need of government attention as the coronavirus crisis unfolds.

And when the prime minister began to deliver what sounded like his political obituary, he was quick to add that he was not about to disappear when his successor as Labour leader was elected on 4 April.

Facing him, Boris Johnson had some striking phrases to deploy; "We are putting our arms as a country around every single worker, every single employee in this country...." but, perhaps rather tired, he occasionally slipped into his pre-crisis habit of brushing questions away with a semi-quip or heckling his questioners.

Mr Corbyn's retort, that this was not a moment for levity, will have stung.

This was, from several points of view, an unusual PMQs - the chamber was sparsely populated as MPs sat apart, and there was a changeover half way through as one set of backbenchers was replaced by another... but the choreography was the least of it.

Political sniping was almost totally absent, and where critical points about the government's crisis-handling were made, they were made and responded to constructively.

Labour MP Peter Kyle complained about the lack of virus testing and personal protective equipment for staff in care homes, fellow Labour MP Karen Buck raised the prospect of a wave of evictions, merely delayed by the emergency powers in the Coronavirus Bill, and both points received sympathetic replies.

The SNP's normally combative Westminster Leader, Ian Blackford, was hailed as "magnificent" when he talked of finding some post crisis way to honour NHS staff. Tory Bob Blackman raised the crowding on the London underground and the danger it posed of spreading the virus - and the PM declined to turn the point into an all-out attack on Sadiq Khan, his Labour successor as mayor of London.

There was praise for all those working flat out - emergency services, Department of Work and Pensions staff handling an upsurge in Universal Credit claims, and plenty of others.

Mr Corbyn's praise for the normally unsung cleaners, later elaborated on with the thought that the health of well-paid bosses rested on the work of outsourced cleaning staff, was a particularly effective point.

At the next PMQs in who knows what circumstances, a new Labour leader will face Boris Johnson.

By tradition new leaders of the Opposition call for an end to Punch and Judy politics.... but for the time being that tradition has lapsed.