16/09/2015 02:33 BST | Updated 16/09/2015 02:59 BST

As Jeremy Corbyn Debuts At Prime Minister's Questions, How Leaders From The Last 30 Years Got On The First Time

Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn during a campaign rally at the Arts Centre Theatre in Aberdeen as Mr Corbyn takes his campaign to Scotland.

Jeremy Corbyn will make one of the most eagerly anticipated debuts at Prime Minister's Questions today. After a landslide leadership election victory, but disquiet among his own MPs, the veteran left-winger is under pressure.

But there's no change there. History records mixed performances from both Labour and Conservative leaders in the last 30 years as they assumed high office or picked up the pieces from what had come before. Here are the hits and misses.

Ed Milband - October 13, 2010 - Soundbite: "I agree with the Prime Minister, why doesn't he."

A month earlier, Ed Miliband had defeated his brother, David, in a bloody leadership contest. Amid the civil and family war, the Conservatives were quickly defining their austerity programme that would dominate the five years of coalition.

A fresh-faced Miliband, sporting a more cropped haircut than of late, attacked cuts to child benefit and the impact on the "squeezed middle". The Labour leader, who many expected to get a shoeing, quoted the PM's words back to him.

"'I'm not going to flannel you. I'm going to give it to you straight. I like child benefit. . . I wouldn't change child benefit, I wouldn't means test it, I don't think that's a good idea.' I agree with the Prime Minister: why doesn't he?"

David Cameron wasn't to be beaten, noting how his welfare reforms were backed by former Labour minister Alan Milburn. "I love this," the PM said with relish. "All the Labour politicians who used to win elections have been thrown out of the window."

Read full exchange here.

David Cameron - December 7, 2005 - Soundbite: "He was the future once."

Tony Blair still had a swagger mere months after a third election triumph. Enter a fresh-faced Old Etonian who had emerged from the pack to beat David Davis to be new Tory leader.

Proceedings opened with doughty Barnsley Labour MP Jeff Ennis asking his leader "how he will deal with a young, handsome, intelligent, charismatic politician, such as myself". Laughter ensued.

The hubris may have been misplaced. Pressing Blair on giving schools greater autonomy, the Tory leader said admissions policies were "stuck in the past". "I want to talk about the future," insisted the young upstart. "He was the future once."

The rictus grin fell from Blair's face.

Read full exchange here.

Gordon Brown - July 4, 2007 - Soundbite: "I have been in this job for five days."

Finally Brown had his hands on the top job. While history records the last days of Gordon as PM as being a miserable time, his earlier work was much more successful: dealing with floods in his first summer in charge and later the banking collapse.

His first confrontation with Cameron was notable for his crisis management as it was set against attempted suicide bombings in London and Glasgow. The session was dominated by issues of security and terrorism, and the Tory leader pressured the PM to ban the British radical Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir.

"It is poisoning the minds of young people," said Cameron. "Two years ago, the Government said that it should be banned."

Brown's response was hesitant. "The Leader of the Opposition forgets that I have been in this job for five days," he offered.

Read full exchange here.

Michael Howard - December 3, 2003 - Soundbite: "This grammar school boy will take no lessons from that public school boy."

The Tories needed a tonic after the stagnation of Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague. Step forward Michael Howard, an old stager and noted debater. Taking on Blair, it was a tasty event, Howard chiding his oppo for being evasive.

"It is his duty to answer the questions. He did not answer the first question, so let us try again," said the former Home Secretary.

The duel was over university funding - Labour's top-up fees v Tory general taxation - and Howard was having none of Blair's apparent bluster.

"Let me make it clear," began Howard. "This grammar school boy will take no lessons from that public school boy on the importance of children from less privileged backgrounds gaining access to university."

Read full exchange here.

Iain Duncan Smith - October 17, 2001 - Soundbite: "All his promises of a better tomorrow will sound hollow."

IDS entered they fray just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, meaning the mood of the House was less like a bear pit than has become the norm. As whenever grown-up politics kicks in, there was little by way of knockabout during the three questions on Afghanistan.

But the "Quiet Man" turned up the volume - as he would announce in an infamous conference speech when the vultures were circling - over the NHS, a row for the ages.

After Duncan Smith raised with Blair his constituent dying in hospital after waiting nine hours on a trolley, he asked: "Does not the Prime Minister think that all his promises of a better tomorrow will sound hollow to such people?"

Read full exchange here.

William Hague - June 25 1997 - Soundbite: "What will he do to stop the arrogant behaviour of his Government?"

Tony Blair's youthful exuberance helped sweep Labour to power months earlier, so the Conservative Party attempted a similar trick. At 36, William Hague was the youngest Tory leader since Pitt the Younger more than two centuries earlier.

HIs four years at the helm are not fondly remembered, though after stepping down at the last election he is now one of the most highly-respected figures in the party. In 1997, sporting a Bobby Charlton combover, his PMQs debut was inauspicious.

Much of the face-off with Blair focussed on reports that a Labour MP was in trouble for campaigning against proposals for a Welsh Assembly. It's one for connoisseurs now, but Hague was anxious to push home the sense of division.

"What will he do to stop the arrogant behaviour of his Government on these matters and to ensure that there is an honest and open debate?," he asked, manfully given the New Labour juggernaut coming his way.

Read full exchange here.

Tony Blair - October 18, 1994 - Soundbite: "A divided Government is a weak Government, and a weak Government is no good for Britain."

The sudden death of John Smith saw Tony Blair elected leader in 1994. The Sedgefield MP was composed, cooly exploiting rifts between the Conservatives over Europe, and specifically the row over a referendum on joining the euro.

Facing John Major, Blair only had three questions during one of two weekly 15 minute PMQs but did his utmost to give the Press lobby a line: "Does he agree that a divided Government is a weak Government, and a weak Government is no good for Britain?"

Read full exchange here.

John Smith - October 20, 1992 - Soundbite: "What is he afraid of?"

Pit closures dominated when John Smith was on debut, succeeding Neil Kinnock some months after the Labour election defeat that was never supposed to be. He demanded an independent review before any more coal mines were shut, and meditated on a Major-Heseltine fall-out.

He asked Major: "If the Prime Minister really believes that he has a strong case, what has he to lose from an independent inquiry? What is he afraid of?"

Read full exchange here.

John Major - November 29, 1990 - Soundbite: Dennis Skinner: "Resign!" John Major: "Now wait a while."

He was the unheralded successor to Margaret Thatcher, and John Major's first PMQs could have started better.

"Resign!," bellowed Labour firebrand Dennis Skinner as the unelected Prime Minister got to his feet.

"Now wait a while," was his curious riposte.

The poll tax dominated and Labour leader Kinnock had Major on the ropes. "Everybody knows that there is only one fundamental, efficient and fair thing to do with the poll tax and that is to scrap it," he offered.

But Major was no slouch, pointing out his nemesis had argued in 1980 local rates - the "alternative" - were "the most unjust of all taxes". Major would have the upper hand two years later.

Read full exchange here.

Neil Kinnock - October 25, 1983 - Soundbite: "A clumsy cover-up for the divisions that exist in the Cabinet."

Neil Kinnock, who would guide the party to modernisation after the crushing 1983 election defeat, was taking on Thatcher for the first time. He quizzed the Iron Lady on her "star chamber", the secretive Cabinet committee that oversaw spending cuts (and was revived by George Osborne in 2010).

"If the lady is still not for turning, what is the purpose in having a 'Star Chamber'?," he asked. "Can it be nothing more than a clumsy cover-up for the divisions that exist in the Cabinet and the indecisions that exist in the Prime Minister?"

But Thatcher barely batted an eyelid: "All public expenditure annual surveys cause problems."

Read full exchange here.

Margaret Thatcher - May 22, 1979 - Soundbite: "Otherwise it is the end of democracy."

Margaret Thatcher would come to dominate British politics for the next 11 years, and her first PMQs set the uncompromising tone.

Asked about Rhodesia, pensions and free school milk ("Maggie Thatcher Milk Snatcher" still lingered from her days as Education Secretary), much of the session was devoted to the trade unions, whose power she was determined to curb.

These are are some choice cuts.

"The vast majority of trade union members, being believers in democracy, believe that policy is made by a Government and is implemented by the House. The vast majority of them — I hope all of them — will agree to implement that policy. Otherwise it is the end of democracy."

"I am not confronting anyone. I hope that (trade unions) are not confronting me, either."

On threats of industrial action, she said: "I believe that it is not only deeply offensive but also constitutionally wrong, and I believe that the leaders of the trade union movement would say the same thing."

Read full exchange here.


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