Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at the Scottish Labour Party Conference on October 30, 2015 in Perth, ScotlandGetty Images

The worst thing a Jeremy Corbyn supporter could do right now is be complacent. Labour has an enormous task ahead if it wants to win the 2020 election. Winning back Scotland alone will be a huge challenge. But that's not to say Corbyn isn't doing interesting things with his leadership, particularly in his refusal to partake in parliament's least edifying ritual, Prime Minister's Questions.

In 2014, Hansard published research on PMQs that found the words most commonly associated with it are "noisy", "childish", "over the top" and "pointless". So perhaps it is unsurprising that every contemporary political leader, including David Cameron, has promised to reform the spectacle, and – given we know how good politicians are with promises – perhaps it is even less surprising that each one has failed miserably.

But Corbyn is different. He didn't promise to change PMQs, he just went in there and did it. First, he put forward questions from members of the public. It wasn't a totally winning formula because Cameron, who is well-briefed and skilled at answering policy questions, deflected them easily.

But it did wrong-foot the government benches, because it meant the braying usually employed as a way of disconcerting the opposition leader suddenly didn't work. It looked like a load of posh old men booing ordinary people's concerns. Cameron didn't just sound sombre when he answered questions in Corbyn's first week; he sounded nervous.

Corbyn has since combined questions from members of the public with his own questions, which has allowed some of the traditional PMQs argy bargy seep back in. But his relentless focus on policy, and his persistent reminders that MPs are debating issues that affect real people, has undermined Cameron rather effectively.

Even Ed Miliband, a thoughtful leader who rejected machismo, would indulge Cameron's efforts to turn PMQs into a p*****g contest. One-liners, playing to the crowd, and lining up "gotcha" moments were pretty common for Miliband, even though it never really suited him.

But Corbyn's steadfast refusal to engage in any of that has meant Cameron no longer looks like a man in a p*****g contest but a man who is p****d off. You can't just stand there on your own trying to joust someone who is trying to have a conversation with you; it looks ridiculous. Corbyn's tactics are also a welcome antidote to the machismo of PMQs, and occasionally Cameron's attempts to draw him back in have looked rather, well, impotent.

The effect of seeing an Old Etonian peacocking away, while his opponent reads out concerns from members of the public transforms Corbyn into a man of the people and Cameron into a member of the elite – for half an hour every Wednesday at least. And given Cameron's background, it has the effect of watching a mask slip.

But the worst thing a Jeremy Corbyn supporter could do right now is be complacent. As Ian Dunt, editor of Politics.co.uk, puts it: "The public don't watch PMQs. The only extent to which it matters is how it influences the journalists who do, but they are all – almost to a man –hostile to Corbyn and will continue to be whatever he does. Corbyn is not going to win a general election through PMQs."

I'd add that PMQs also influences party morale and to that end it is beneficial for reducing complaints about Corbyn from disgruntled Labour MPs. Nevertheless, Corbyn needs a media strategy incorporating clear, repetitive messages, and addressing public fears that Labour cannot be trusted with the economy. Consistently winning PMQs doth not a political strategy make.

Having said that, Corbyn's performances can only be a good thing for Labour. And hey, at least those of us who are forced to watch PMQs won't spend tomorrow watching fireworks and wondering if Guy Fawkes did have the right idea after all.


Ellie Mae O'Hagan is a freelance writer, working mainly for the Times, Independent and Guardian.