This week the two clashed over allegations that Boris Johnson used donations to fund the refurbishment of his flat, and claims that he said he would rather “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” than order a second lockdown.
After three consecutive wins from Starmer, did Johnson finally step up his game and come up with any zingers to rival those by Starmer’s writing team?
“Can the Prime Minister tell the house categorically, yes or no, did he make those remarks or remarks to that effect?” Starmer, 8/10
A very clear and simple question got things going this week, making it hard for Johnson to wriggle and give a politician’s answer. Since the Daily Mail reported the “bodies pile high” comment, it has been the story that everyone has been talking about, and one that could affect the Conservative Party’s success in the Hartlepool by-election.
Sometimes it is not witty zingers that cut through when providing strong opposition, but clarity, which Starmer delivered in buckets this week. How did Johnson respond?
“No, Mr Speaker and the right honourable gentleman is a lawyer… if he’s going to repeat allegations like that he should come to this house and substantiate those allegations.” Johnson, 3/10
Bit of a weak response from the PM, who resorted to making one of his favourite jibes about Starmer – that he is a lawyer. ‘
‘Live at the Apollo on line one, Boris.’
But with his Punch & Judy attitude, Johnson seemed to protest too much. As for substantiating the allegations, the sources that have spoken to the press have all been anonymous, and there have been plenty. As a former journalist himself, Johnson should know the rigmarole of substantiating a story and that Starmer could not have done anything else.
.@BorisJohnson on 'bodies' quote: "I didn't say those words". But doesn't tell us which words he did use.
“Lockdowns are miserable. Lockdowns are appalling things to do.” Johnson, 6/10
Continuing his defence, Johnson said that going into lockdown was a “bitter” decision and said it was necessary to reduce cases and roll out the vaccine. While he exaggerated his success – cases surged in December and January after the second lockdown this was the only moment Johnson appeared genuine, and whether he made the crass and indefensible comment or not, we witnessed a glimpse as to why he might have.
Johnson’s defence appears to be that because the NHS mass vaccination programme’s a success he’s entitled to be as sleazy as he likes #PMQs
“I remind [Johnson] the Ministerial Code says and I quote ‘ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation.’” Starmer, 8/10
This was a bold power play from Starmer who managed to accuse the Prime Minister of lying and called on him to resign in the politest way we’ve ever seen. Great stuff.
“Normally when people don’t want to incriminate themselves they say ‘no comment.’” Starmer, 7/10
Next, the conversation turned to the funding of Johnson’s Downing Street home. Johnson ranted about the price of Labour Party council homes and claimed “that is the issue” and a cool-headed Starmer responded by being as snarky as can be. He then said he would make the question about who funded his flat “easier” for the PM to answer by offering him “multiple choice” and joked “it should be easier than finding the chatty rat”. Starmer was in his comfort zone and Johnson began to get more and more flustered and claimed people would think it “bizarre” that he is focussing on this issue. Finger firmly off the pulse them, Boris.
“This is a Prime Minister who during the pandemic, was nipping out of meetings to choose wallpaper at £840 a roll.” Starmer, 6/10
This was a nice line, pretty evocative and it went down well.
Starmer: "This is a Prime Minister who during the pandemic was nipping out to choose wallpaper at £840 a roll."
“Answer the question, that’s what the public scream at their televisions every PMQs!” Starmer, 8/10
After Johnson claimed the public care more about minimising taxpayer contributions to Downing Street and ranting about the costs Tony Blair accrued (a man who hasn’t been the Prime Minister since 2007), Starmer showed that he knew what the public actually want to know about.
Good line from Starmer about people screaming at the TV during #PMQs saying, “Answer the question!”
“What I believe has been strange to breaking point is the credulity of the public. He has half an hour every week to put serious and sensible questions to me about the state of the pandemic…and he goes on and on about wallpaper and I’ve told him umpteenth times now, I paid for it” Johnson, 6/10
Johnson accused Starmer of playing political games rather than discussing serious issues. It is a valid point that the pandemic, vaccines, and other political issues have more pressing and tangible impacts on the public, while issues of transparency are still incredibly important. This was the only line of reasonable defence that Johnson offered during the conversation, rather than evading questions or digging out facts and figures about Labour council’s housing policies, and for that he gets points.
After Starmer responded with his now well-trodden accusations of “sleaze”, Johnson then got angrier than many had ever seen him, shouting, which had mixed results:
Keir Starmer: "The Prime Minister hasn’t answered the question, he knows he hasn’t answered the question, he never… https://t.co/MsnKWm4D3k