Boris Johnson vs Keir Starmer every week at PMQs is rarely the most thrilling of duels.
Normally what happens is Starmer grills the PM and he resorts to making a bizarre joke about underpants (yes, really), going on a tirade about how much Labour supposedly hates the private sector (when he was the one who infamously said “f*ck business”) or bringing up Jeremy Corbyn (someone who hasn’t led the Labour party for almost a year).
Anyway, this week’s PMQs felt predictable in that it featured all of these things. But it was also the setting where Starmer listed, to Johnson’s face, five of the key ways that his government is failing Britain’s people.
Starmer launched off by reading Johnson’s own words back to him, reading out the ministerial code that the PM wrote a foreword for last year.
“There must be no bullying, no harassment, no leaking, no misuse of taxpayers money, no actual or perceived conflicts of interest. How many of those promises does the PM think his ministers have kept?”
Across the next 10 minutes, Starmer went through each point in the ministerial code and gave examples of how Johnson’s government is failing.
First, he turned his attention to allegations of bullying.
He urged Johnson to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel after a report found that her behaviour towards civil servants could be described as bullying.
Then, he mentioned the government’s constant leaks.
Johnson seemed unable to answer where the leaks of local and national lockdown plans, that have occurred throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, have come from.
After this, Starmer turned his attention to how the government had used public funds.
“For weeks I’ve raised concern about the government spraying taxpayer money on contracts that don’t deliver…”
He then suggested that the government had ordered over 50 million unusable pieces of PPE and over £200m in unusable masks. He asked Johnson is he knew how much taxpayer cash had been wasted.
Johnson didn’t answer the question, but responded by saying that 99 per cent of PPE that the government ordered was usable and accused Starmer’s “attack” of being “feeble”.
Next, Starmer listed several alleged conflicts of interests.
He focused on relationships between the government and contracts that have been awarded during the pandemic. He alleged that contracts were 10 times more likely to be awarded to companies which have “political connections” to the government.
He also referenced a report by The Sunday Times that Matt Hancock appointed a key advisory role to a friend who is a major shareholder in a firm that specialises in lobbying the government.
He asked if Johnson was aware of these “apparent conflict of interests”. Johnson said any conflicts of interest would be evident in the publicised details of all contracts, and attacked Labour for criticising the government for “moving heaven and Earth” during the pandemic. He then accused Labour of having a “hatred” for the private sector”.
To this, Starmer responded:
“No one’s knocking the private sector, the government’s knocking the taxpayer!”
"So Mr Speaker I think that’s a clean sweep: bullying, leaking, wasting public money and obvious conflicts of interest. It’s the same old story: one rule for the British public, another for the prime minister and his friends."