Prime Ministers’ Questions is back after a brief hiatus caused by the Queen’s Speech.
Last time they met, the two clashed about Boris Johnson’s flat refurbishment, causing the Prime Minister to absolutely lose the plot and make everyone watching at home to turn down the volume on their televisions.
Having had some time to calm down, this week’s PMQs was a far milder affair, as the two batted Johnson’s controversial coronavirus travel policy back and forth and acknowledged the growth in anti-semitism faced by the country.
But who performed better? Let’s dive in:
“We have one of the strongest border regimes anywhere in the world” Johnson, 0/10
After Starmer questioned Johnson on why he has moved 170 countries to the amber list – making it easier for Brits to holiday around the globe, and pick up whatever illnesses they find there – Johnson delivered a line which caused loud laughs from the House. This line had the exact same energy as the woman who said she would not leave her house due to the virus – while standing on a high street. It’s just utter nonsense. Flights have been coming in and out of the country throughout the pandemic causing a world buffet of coronaviruses to potter about – like the Indian variant, and also the South African variant, and also the Brazilian variant...
“Having moved 170 countries to the amber list, absolute clarity is needed about the circumstances in which people can travel” Starmer, 8/10
It should really go without saying but it was essential for opposition to take the government to task over all its back and forths about the dos and don’ts of foreign travel. Starmer laid out all the mixed messages the government have trotted out over the last couple of days, including some ministers saying it was dangerous to travel and that British people should not go on holiday this year (Lord Bethell), and others claiming it is acceptable with quarantine (Matt Hancock and George Eustice.)
Johnson showed himself to be a conservative through and through by claiming that they did not need to rely on the law to get people to do “the right thing” and that it was clear people would have to self-isolate and take tests if they travel to amber countries.
However, we have seen the results for ourselves. Research last summer revealed only 11 per cent of people self-isolate when they are in contact with someone who tests positive for the virus. An – and we apologise for using 2020/2021’s most overused world, but – UNPRECEDENTED time requires an unprecedented (there it is again) level of government intervention, not opening the airports and hoping that Brits don’t go to them. Starmer questioned if the government doesn’t want people to go to amber countries, why have they made it easier to do so? We hear you, Keir.
“That’s an ‘I don’t know’” Starmer, 6/10
Sassy Starmer returned after Johnson failed to answer how many people are going to amber list countries and instead rattled off a load of statistics about travel in general. We love to see it.
“We’re an island nation, we have the power to stop this. Why doesn’t the Prime Minister drop this hopeless system?” Starmer, 8/10
We ARE an island nation. Why DOESN’T the Prime Minister drop this hopeless system?!?!? Johnson barely answered the question and it would have been good to at least hear some excuses for risking lockdown 4 which we expect to be as highly anticipated as Shrek 4.
“Wouldn’t it be great hearing the right honourable gentleman backing it up for a change?” Johnson, 5/10
Err... note to Boris, that’s not how opposition works, bestie! x
“I share his horror at the outbreak of anti-Semitic incidents...we will call this out at every chance.” Johnson, 9/10 ”
After Starmer changed the subject to discuss growing anti-semitism in the country that has disgusted the nation this week, we witnessed a rare moment of consensual unity. Enjoy it while you can. It was important and necessary to witness the politicians lay down their swords to condemn hate, but Johnson loses a point for trying to make a pop about a Labour “U-turn” on anti-semitism, nodding to issues with the party under Corbyn’s leadership. Regardless of Corbyn’s multiple failures to root out anti-semitism in the party, no-one can deny that Starmer has succeeded where his predecessor failed and using anti semitic attacks is not an appropriate opportunity for point-scoring.
While sneering comments, jokes and powerful rhetoric provide both headlines and entertainment, it is holding the government to account with forensic questioning that is the job of the opposition – as dull as it may be to watch.
On this metric, we can see why Starmer was such a successful lawyer as he expertly and calmly laid bare the inconsistencies of Johnson’s policies.
But there were also missed opportunities to really lay into the Prime Minister. His nurse quitting over “lack of respect” for the NHS, for one, would have helped drive support for pay rises in the sector.
Here’s what others thought:
Overall, we’d say a mild PMQs warrants a mild verdict: it’s a draw.