Today’s PMQs suggests that some of the immediate heat has gone the partygate crisis, if only temporarily. Sir Keir Starmer did not make all his questions about parties, instead widening out his attacks to Conservative tax policy.
Starmer did though open by complaining about the behaviour of the Prime Minister in Monday’s statement on the Gray report, saying that the leader of the party of Winston Churchill was now repeating the conspiracies of ‘violent fascists to try and score cheap political points’. Curiously, Boris Johnson chose to double down on the claim he’d made that Starmer had refused to prosecute Jimmy Savile when he was director of public prosecutions, despite the way this has wound up a lot of Tory MPs. Indeed, the faces of most of his backbenchers froze as he doubled down, saying that Starmer had apologised for what the CPS had done.
Those frozen faces continued every time Starmer made jokes about Johnson needing to improve the quality of his answers before he has his police interview. But Johnson did manage to rally his troops a number of times as he replied to the Labour leader’s main questions on tax cuts, even though they are a source of distinct unhappiness on the Tory benches. He listed what he claimed were government achievements on the economy and the NHS, though his line that the UK has the fastest growth in the G7 has since been contested by Labour.
Some of his ripostes to Starmer and other Labour backbenchers, though, seemed very thin: he brandished a letter from the then shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds at the start of the pandemic recommending two firms who could manufacture PPE, accused Alex Sobel of opposing Brexit when he raised the matter of tax cuts and the cost of living, and jeered at Angela Eagle, who he said had campaigned to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister when she had in fact tried to run against him in the failed leadership coup of 2016.
The session didn’t make things worse for Johnson, who is largely just watching to see whether the trickle of letters going into Graham Brady continues while waiting for the police investigation. But it was striking to see Starmer attacking him so openly on the economy and low taxes when both have been a subject of Labour weakness for many years.
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