In the House of Commons, the force of an utterance often receives its legitimacy from the reaction of the audience: the members of the chamber. In PMQs on Wednesday, David Cameron (PM), in reaction to an unauthorised question from a member, told Jeremy Corbyn to ‘put on a proper suit, do up your tie, and sing the national anthem’ – a reference to the Leader of the Opposition’s noted informal wear and unwillingness to sing the national anthem.
This clearly received full approval from the Conservative benches who roared with approval for a full 35 seconds before Jeremy Corbyn (JC) could get in a response. 35 seconds! That must be somewhere near a record for the House of Commons.
Chamber member: (ask your mother) PM: a- ask my mother Chamber member: (ask your mum) PM: oh I think I know what my mother would say I think she’d look across the dispatch box and she’d say put on a proper suit do up your tie and sing the national anthem Chamber: ((shouts of approval)) (2.0) SP: Jeremy Corbyn Chamber: ((noise continues)) (11.0) JC: if we’re talking (1.0) mister speaker Chamber: ((noise continues)) (18.0) JC: mister speaker if we’re talking of motherly advice my late mother would have said stand up (.) for the principle of a health service free (.) at the point of use (.) for everybody Chamber: ((shouts of approval))
The headlines immediately after and the following day all focused on Cameron’s jibe: should he have or shouldn’t he have. Sometimes it is not what you say at PMQs but the reaction you get to what you say.