After being asked by Labour’s Chris Elmore whether he had ever considered Carrie Johnson for a £100,000 job in the foreign office, he failed to deny it.
He avoided the question entirely by accusing Labour of avoiding the question at hand - the rail strikes, which apparently is all Labour’s fault - despite them not being in government for 12 years.
Starmer: "Does Johnson empathise with Wakefield MP who faced a vote of no-confidence?"
A cheeky start to PMQs for Starmer, who asks about Tory candidate Nadeem Ahmed running in the Wakefield by-election, who is reported to have faced a confidence vote as a Tory counsellor in 2021.
“Will the public vote for a Tory who even his own side don’t want in the job,” he said, taking a dig at Johnson following his own confidence vote two weeks ago.
Given the major issues of the day, though, this seems like a missed attempt to tackle them head on and beat Johnson to the punch.
Johnson: "Starmer’s silence on the rail strikes is unbelievable"
Johnson establishes the Tory’s play in dealing with the rail strikes - which is, basically, to associate it with Labour as much as possible and go in on Starmer’s stance on the whole thing.
“The leader of the Labour party hasn’t even got the gumption to speak out against the rail strikes… Unbelievable silence from the Leader of the Labour party,” he says, earning a big reaction from his side of the house.
Starmer: "Johnson crashed the economy and put everybody’s tax up"
Starmer attempts to get to the heart of the living conditions being faced by the public, citing cancelled flights and problems renewing passports. However, as soon as the strikes are brought up, the Tories erupt into jeers and the Speaker is forced to intervene. Starmer is struggling to cut through at this point.
Johnson: "Starmer had 25 Labour MPs defying him on the picket lines"
Johnson went for the same line again about Labour being behind the strikes, saying 25 MPs defied Starmer’s guidance and attended the picket lines themselves. Again, the noise inside the chamber forces the speaker to intervene. It’s a playground shouting match at this point.
Starmer: "Any advice on a £100,000 job at the foreign office?"
Starmer realises his rail strikes and cost of living tactic isn’t getting him far and instead references Carriegate, saying if he were ever to ask Johnson’s advice it would be on how to land a £100,000 job at the foreign office. Starmer’s change in tactic turns the tide somewhat.
Johnson: "Labour takes £10 million from the unions"
Johnson is heckled giving an unconvincing response and attempts to turn the attention back to Starmer’s stance on the striking unions. You get the sense every answer to every question put to him today will be similar, and it seems to be having less on an impact every time.
Starmer: "Why don’t you actually do your job"
Sometimes, the simplest responses are the strongest, and Starmer delivers his strongest point of the day by attempting to make a more general point about Johnson’s tenure in Number 10.
“He can’t help himself. There’s a huge problem facing the country and all he’s doing it blaming everyone else. Can’t he hear the country screaming at him, “get on with your job.”
Johnson: "Starmer is driving up transport costs by supporting strikes"
The PM stumbles over his words as he replies to questions about public sector pay, saying: “Actually, five million public sector workers are getting a pay rise. We’ve increased the living wage by £1,000, we’ve increased universal credit.”
But it’s not long before turning things back to Starmer and saying he’s “standing with the strikers” - and subsequently driving up transport costs. We can’t help but think this is going to be the tone for the whole session.
Johnson: "Labour will take us back to the 1970s"
A lamentable final response to questions from Starmer sees Johnson claim that the current situation of Labour is “worst than under Jeremy Corbyn” and the party - which he says is “holding hands with Arthur Scargill” amid the ongoing strikes, want to "take this country back to the 1970s".
It’s worth remembering that under this Tory government, which has spent 12 years in power - inflation has hit a 40-year high and the country is facing a cost of living crisis, but they’re claiming it’s the opposition who are to blame.
So there we have it, a big old row about the train strikes that solves nothing, with the House witnessing one of the most vociferous PMQs in some time.
Starmer was at his strongest when calling out the government for shifting blame and Johnson for failing to do his job. However, he failed to make an impact with questions about Carriegate, which was largely passed over after the PM failed to deny it – which Johnson will no doubt see as a success.
Still, it was clear that Johnson is more interested in campaigning and criticising his detractors, rather than addressing the issues at the heart of the strikes and the current cost of living crisis.
One thing’s for sure, we can expect to hear Johnson distract from questions on the strikes by associating them with Labour more and more over the coming days.
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