Today’s session was unusual in that it started off in a rare sombre fashion – this was the first PMQs session since Johnson’s mother Charlotte Johnson Wahl unexpectedly passed away on Monday, at the age of 79. Starmer started by offering his condolences to the prime minister, adding that he knows “first hand” that “losing a parent is never easy”. This sentiment was echoed by all the other speakers who asked questions on Wednesday.
But it wasn’t long before the usual pantomime ensued, with both leaders taking firing shots at their opponent. So who prevailed in this week’s encounter? We’ve scored the leaders for you:
“For the first time in decades, wages are rising” - Johnson, rating 5/10
The two quickly got down to the major topic of the week which is the government’s plans to cut Universal Credit claimants income by £20-a-week, with Starmer challenging Johnson to provide an answer on how the recipients are supposed to make up for that loss.
Bringing up Therese Coffey’s much-scrutinsed media appearances on Monday, Starmer said: “The Work and Pensions Secretary seems to think it is an extra two hours a week. So let me make it even easier for the prime minister, is the correct answer higher or lower than that?”
However, Johnson’s initial replies to the question were to deflect and criticise Labour policies. Starmer complained that Johnson was ducking the question but when pressed the PM finally said: “What I can tell him is that under this Government, for the first time in decades, wages are rising. Of course, what they want to do is to continue to take money in taxation and put it into benefits. We don’t think that’s the right way. We want to encourage high wages and high skills.”
Keir Starmer repeats his question about Universal Credit, saying the PM didn't answer him.
The PM says, under his… https://t.co/I6FWbbPgNw
Summary: It’s good that wages are rising but how long is that going to take and how is an answer like this supposed to reassure a parent who is being deprived of £20-a-week? Starmer was strong in attempting to hold the PM to account but perhaps didn’t get the answer he was looking for.
“Millions of working families will be hit hard, very hard” – Starmer, 7/10
Starmer persisted and asked how on earth a parent, who already works full time, is supposed to make up for the money lost by working an extra nine hours a week.
He said: “A single parent; could be a constituent working on the minimum wage, already working full time would need to work over nine hours a week on top of their full-time job just to get the money back that the Prime Minister is taking away from them.
“Prime Minister they are already working full time. They’ve got kids, how on earth does the prime minister think they’re going to find the time to work an extra nine hours? In truth, an extra day every week, how prime minister?”
Labour's Keir Starmer says some people will need to work an extra 9 hours a week to make up for universal credit cu… https://t.co/wjNOLf86xm
The Labour leader added that “millions of working families will be hit hard, very hard by the Prime Minister’s Universal Credit cut.”
“He knows it, they know it,” he added.
Summary: Starmer was not giving up with his line of questioning and even Johnson couldn’t argue with the maths. But this was Starmer’s chance to really nail the PM and yet the Labour leader still didn’t quite get him quite where he wanted.
“If it was up to Captain Hindsight Costa Coffee would still be closed” – Johnson, 0/10
Bizarrely this dispute descended into a row about Costa Coffee with the PM bringing up lockdowns and the old Captain Hindsight jab that he has been aiming at Starmer for more than a year now.
The PM yelled: “Wages are rising. They are 4.1 per cent up from before the pandemic. We want to encourage high wages and high skills. I think it is a good thing that Costa Coffee is now paying 5 per cent more than before the pandemic. If it was up to Captain Hindsight Costa Coffee would still be closed.”
Summary: Quite a strange stance from the prime minister to highlight just one high street name that has increased their wages but at least we know where he likes to get his coffee from. And the ‘Captain Hindsight’ gag? Please, we’re begging you, get some new material.
“I can see that panto season has come early” – Johnson rating, 6/10
The whole thing then began to represent a pantomime sketch as Starmer wheeled out a routine often used by Jeremy Corbyn, when Labour backbenchers chanted ‘up’ along with him when he reads out the number of tax hikes that have happened under this government.
He said: “The reality is this: taxes on working people – up; national insurance – up; council tax – up; energy bills, food prices, burdens on families – up. Up, up, up.”
Johnson fires back with “I can see that panto season has come early,” which causes the Tory MPs behind him, who were almost universally maskless, to cackle as if they had just heard the funniest joke in the world.
Summary: Johnson’s comeback to the cringe Labour chanting was pretty good and seemed to give everyone a bit of a laugh...
Speaker Lindsay Hoyle often steals the show during PMQs with his withering retorts and today, as ever, he soon put a stop to the silliness with a world-class comeback: “Order! Order! If it is [panto season], it’s certainly behind you.”
Keir Starmer - This country's success is built by working people, but the tax system is loaded against them
Summary: ...But Johnson was quickly undermined by the raucous scenes behind which allowed Hoyle to completely demolish the line, with almost no effort at all.
“Vote Labour, wait Longer” – Johnson, 2/10
The prime minister then begins to take a shot at Starmer over the reports that the Labour leader is set to release a new 14,000-word essay at this month’s party conference which he hopes will reassert his vision for the party.
Johnson quipped by saying: “Why does the world have to wait for the thoughts of ‘Chairman Keir’? Having listened to what he’s had to say, his non-existent plan for Universal Credit, his non-existent plan for health and social care, I can compress those 14,000 words to four: vote Labour, wait longer.”
Summary: A needless swipe that didn’t prove anything. Sure, the essay is probably going to be too long and not prove anything but we don’t see why he had to bring this up and all it resulted in was another boring catchphrase – Vote Labour, Wait Longer – that he has already used countless times. Also, does anyone understand the ‘Chairman Keir’ jibe? Answers on a postcard, please.
As an aside, some might have noticed that Johnson and few others in the Chamber were sporting springs of wheat in their front pockets. No, it wasn’t a tribute to Theresa May but to show their support for ‘Back British Farming Day.’
It's #PMQs now in the House of Commons and you may be seeing a lot of MPs wearing these badges and wondering what t… https://t.co/8KvKWKP1Ko
— National Farmers' Union (@National Farmers' Union)
That’s all well and good but this would seem to us to sound something awfully close to a ‘gesture’, which is odd behaviour from a man who said he didn’t support ‘gesture politics’ when challenged on if he would take the knee or not during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
#PMQs underway. Not the biggest deal but last year Boris Johnson said he wouldn’t take the knee in support of Black… https://t.co/G7WLYwsAdW
Overall we’ll probably have to give this one as a draw. Starmer had some good strong questions and really pressed Johnson on a few issues but couldn’t quite get the answer he was after. Similarly, Johnson wasn’t backing down and seemed to have some real fire behind him at points but was mostly reciting tired cliches. Not a vintage PMQs performance from either man as neither landed any telling blows.