A week is a long time in politics.

Since Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer last met, a lot has happened. Like? The government voted to cut foreign aid yesterday despite rebellion from the back benches. Meanwhile, the latest relaxation of coronavirus restrictions were finalised and everyone had fierce debates on face masks, foreign travel, and just about everything else you would expect to find on a pandemic bingo card.

What else? England made it through to the finals of the Euro 2020 tournament by beating Denmark, but unfortunately lost the game after a tense penalty shootout against Italy. This might sound like a catch-up about sports not politics now, but the racism that was unleashed after the match led people to think that perhaps some Conservatives (we’re looking at you, Priti Patel) had gone a bit too far in their criticism of those who take the knee to campaign against this very racism and that maybe, just maybe, more should be done to prevent abuse.

All this, then, was on the table for Starmer to interrogate Johnson about. So what did he choose? Let’s dive in.

“I utterly condemn and abhor the racists outpourings that we saw on Sunday night.” - Johnson, 9/10

Straight off the bat, Starmer asked Johnson if he was wrong to say that taking the knee was a mere “gesture”, which he did last summer at the height of the BLM protests and again this year when his spokesperson said he was more “focussed on actions than gestures”. (His rhetoric has since softened). Johnson replied by saying he would be taking stronger action to ban racists from football matches and that he was against racism.

While his previous statements may make some raise their eyebrows at his words, Johnson is the Prime Minister and issuing a strong statement like that is powerful. However he did dodge the question and failed to retract these previous comments that did not initially condemn those who take the knee (more on this later).

Priti Patel “has faced racism and prejudice all her career and the kind he can never imagine” - Johnson, 6/10

Johnson would not be drawn on a response over whether Patel had been wrong for making comments about taking the knee being gesture politics. In doing so he dodged questions and used the racism his colleague experienced as a political point and spoke on her behalf. Nevertheless, it is likely she has indeed faced racism that Starmer could not understand due to his white privilege. Starmer appeared a bit ruffled and said he condemned “all racism”.

“I want to hear the Prime Minister. If his own side doesn’t want to hear him, I’m sure the tea room will accommodate them.” - Hoyle, 10/10

Today, MPs were incredibly boisterous. Hoyle had to tell them to calm down twice so he could hear and he didn’t fail to entertain while doing so.

“The online harms bill has promised for three years, I’m not sure a 15 minute chat at a garden party moves things forward that significantly.” - Starmer, 8/10

Johnson said he was taking action to force social media platforms to get hate off their sites. He also claimed that “we” had made it “absolutely clear that no-one should boo the England team”, which is... not completely true. When asked to condemn the booing in June, Johnson’s spokesman said he “fully respects the right of those who choose to peacefully protest and make their feelings known” and Starmer read out a newspaper headline, reflecting just that. He had his receipts. (It should be noted that, days later, it was said that the PM “wants to see everybody getting behind the team to cheer them on, not boo”.)

“The government has been trying to stoke a culture war and they’ve realised they’re on the wrong side. Now they hope that nobody’s noticed” - Starmer 8/10

Given the statements made by Conservatives like Steve Baker and Johnny Mercer recently, it appears Starmer hit the nail square on the head in suggesting the Tories no longer think stoking division pays political dividends.

He also brought up Tory MP Andrew Rosindell saying that footballer Tyrone Mings should “stick to football not politics” and sneered at Lee Anderson for boycotting the matches.

“We will get on with vaccinating the people of the country while they continue to vacillate”. - 1/10

Look, we know this is utterly boring and maybe we just have Stockholm syndrome from watching it every week but is Johnson’s ability to bounce a topic of conversation to vaccinations just a bit impressive?

Not really, but he would be a formidable opponent in any word association game.

“Do you want a cup of tea, Boris.”

“No thank you but what I do want and I’ll tell you that now is great public health, and how are we getting on with ensuring great public health? Well with the vaccine rollout of course....”

Formidable!

“Football’s a game, racism isn’t... Far from giving racism the red card, the Prime Minister gave it the green light and I’ll tell you the worst kind of gesture politics – putting an England shirt over a shirt and tie whilst not condemning them booing.” - Starmer, 10/10

This lyrical wordplay makes us jealous and it certainly packed a punch. Meanwhile, roasting Johnson for looking highly ridiculous while watching the football last week? Starmer’s got banter.

The verdict

A few weeks ago, two white men screamed at each other about rape convictions in the country to score political points during PMQs. Today, the same white men shouted at each other about racism. The house was raucous and spirited. Johnson was defensive and angry and Starmer – critical of the Conservatives for stoking culture wars for political reasons – spent the majority of the session playing into his hand by taking this bait.

While racism is undeniably an important issue, it was uncomfortable to watch these men speak for victims, often with little tact or sensitivity.

Hoyle had a point when he suggested that MPs go and calm down over a cup of tea. So, for the second time, he takes the crown.

How the two (or three) fare next time is a matter for next Wednesday. It’s all to play for. After all, a week is a long time in politics.

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