PMQs during the pandemic is starting to feel a little bit like groundhog day.
Starmer runs rings around Boris Johnson who, despite his best efforts, continues to look like a fish out of water blustering and blathering to a half-empty chamber.
But this week there was the added excitement of a good old-fashioned political face-off between Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and the government over funding for the Manchester area.
Burnham had refused to move Manchester to ‘Tier 3’ Covid restrictions, saying he didn’t think the evidence provided was adequate and that the north was being “treated with contempt” by the government.
Tier 3 was eventually imposed on the area after negotiations for financial support collapsed. Burnham was reportedly offered £60m and requested £65m. Then, in a dramatic moment, he appeared to find out live on TV that the support package had been dropped to £22m.
Labour then announced it would be forcing a vote in the House of Commons over the support package.
So the stage was set for a classic PMQs duel...
During the exchange, Johnson defended himself against accusations that he and Rishi Sunak are not prepared to provide adequate support to Greater Manchester.
But Starmer was poised to attack what he sees as the PM's hypocrisy, saying:
This is a prime minister who can find £7,000 a day for consultants on track and trace – which isn’t working – who can find £43m for a garden bridge that was never built, but he can’t find £5m for the people of greater Manchester.
I really think the prime minister has crossed a Rubicon here, not just with the way he’s treated Greater Manchester, but the grubby take it or leave it way these local deals are being done. It’s corrosive to public trust to pit region against region, mayor against mayor, council against council, asking them to trade away their businesses and jobs.
We need a one-nation approach, replacing these endless local battles, with clear national criteria and proper support for jobs.
In case you don't remember, the Garden Bridge was a disastrous project Johnson spearheaded while Mayor of London. The bridge never ended up getting built and reportedly cost the taxpayer £43m. It's been described as Johnson's "biggest failure", which given his history is... quite something.
Coincidentally, the reported £43m price tag for this "absurd vanity project" is the exact difference between the £22m support package Greater Manchester was given and the £65m they asked for. (Though the BBC reported the figure at an even higher £53m).
After sitting open-mouthed for about four seconds, Johnson eventually responded:
I’m proud of the one-nation conservative support we’ve given the entire country; £200bn in support for jobs across the country.
He then said there is “no other country in Europe where so much help and support has been given to get through this crisis”, before accusing Starmer of wanting to “turn the lights off” with a full national lockdown.
On social media people praised Starmer for using Johnson's biggest failure against him. And the sentiment was echoed by his deputy Angela Rayner.
“This is a PM who can pay £7,000 a day to consultants on test & trace, can find £43 million for a garden bridge whi… https://t.co/IYzDhI3LGj— Peter Stefanovic (@Peter Stefanovic) 1603279199
“This is a Prime Minister who can find £7,000 a day for consultants for a track and trace system that isn’t working… https://t.co/DSlgtWjMVF— Liam Young (@Liam Young) 1603278626
This is a Prime Minister who can find £7,000 a day for consultants for a track & trace system that isn’t working.… https://t.co/V1r5yV4OaM— Angela Rayner (@Angela Rayner) 1603278853
Better luck next time, Boris.
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