Sir Keir Starmer defied some of his critics yesterday with his fluid response to the Tories’ Budget in the Commons, lambasting the government for merely “papering over the cracks” exposed by the pandemic after a decade of austerity, “rather than rebuilding the foundations”.

After a surprising row in which the Labour leader risked being outflanked to the left on corporation tax by a Tory government spending public money at record levels as a result of Covid-19, Starmer sought to re-stake Labour’s claim to being the party offering the most fair, green and ambitious recovery from the pandemic.

“Behind the spin, the videos and the photo ops, we all know the Chancellor doesn’t believe in an active and enterprising government,” Starmer said. “We know, we know he’s itching to get back to his free market principles and to pull away support as quickly as he can.

“One day these restrictions will end. One day we’ll all be able to take our masks off – and so will the Chancellor.”

Indeed, Starmer – sometimes accused of appearing too “wooden” – peppered his response with jokes and jibes at Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s expense, mocking the rising Tory star’s shamelessly constant PR campaign and trying to lay some of the blame for the government’s mistakes during the pandemic at his feet.

“After 11 months in this job it’s nice finally to be standing opposite the person actually making decisions in this government,” Starmer began, going on to suggest that he was “sure this Budget will look better on Instagram” and that “even the Chancellor’s film crew will struggle to put a positive spin on this”.

Unsurprisingly, the jokes were not to everyone’s taste – and foreign office ministerJames Cleverly decided to hit back with an attempt at humour of his own, equating Starmer’s speech to “watching an episode of Friends without the laugh track”.

But the joke backfired somewhat, with Cleverly’s TV theme one that people seemed only too happy to run with.

And likely for many, the most memorably misjudged jibe of the day actually came from Boris Johnson.

The prime minister raised eyebrows across the country as he attacked Starmer during PMQs for having “concentrated his questions entirely to the interests of the people of Yemen” – where the government plans to slash UK aid despite millions being short of food, largely as a result of the conflict in which UK arms are feared to have been implicated in war crime incidents.

But some simply took Cleverly’s tweet as an indication that Starmer had hit a nerve.

More: Technology can reverse climate change. It’s time to embrace it

Please log in or register to upvote this article
The Conversation (0)