Isabel Hardman

Boris Johnson takes aim at ‘lefty’ aid rebels

Boris Johnson takes aim at 'lefty' aid rebels
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Normally when a Prime Minister goes on the attack in the Commons, it's the opposition in his sights. Not so today, when Boris Johnson accidentally attacked his own MPs, including former prime minister Theresa May, for being 'lefty' propagandists. He was responding to questions from SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford about the cuts in foreign aid spending from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent, and said: 'We are in very very difficult financial times but you shouldn't believe the lefty propaganda that you're hearing from the people opposite.' Blackford was amused by this and quipped that he'd never expected to hear May referred to as a leftist.

On the matter of whether there should be a vote, Johnson had a line which he used both in response to Blackford and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, which was that if people want a vote on the matter, they just need to look at the local election results last month which he argued was a validation of the government's approach.

Starmer had a piecemeal approach to the session, and it was hard not to conclude that he was as focused on addressing his own weaknesses as he was on the government's problems. He used the resignation of Sir Kevan Collins over schools catch-up funding as a way of attacking the government for not taking education seriously enough and tried to get Johnson to endorse Labour's plan for the policy area. It was striking that he placed such an emphasis on 'Labour's plan', given he has come in for much criticism for not seeming to have a plan on many policies at all.

He also wrapped his question on foreign aid spending into one demanding that the Prime Minister use the G7 summit to push for international recognition of the state of Palestine. This was quite clearly a question written with a view to leaflets being handed out in the Batley and Spent by-election, but it's not clear whether it will really help or hinder Labour to raise the issue so prominently. 

As Ian Warren argued in this fascinating post recently, the party won't be able to out-Galloway George Galloway, who is standing in the seat, and indeed Galloway will be hoping that Starmer ends up on his turf for precisely this reason. It was also interesting that Starmer chose to take aim at Chancellor Rishi Sunak when complaining about education funding. 

You don't have to be particularly well-versed in Westminster dynamics to know that Sunak is considered a hot favourite to succeed Johnson as Prime Minister, nor that he is still very much in the honeymoon period of his Chancellorship. Trying to pin politically awkward spending cuts on him isn't just a tactic to reduce his appeal to voters. It's also a means of undermining his support among Conservative MPs.