Sir Keir Starmer will want to forget today’s PMQs. And fast.
The Labour leader began with a strategic error. Instead of hounding the Prime Minister on a single issue he chose three unrelated topics: Covid, army numbers and steel production. Typical Sir Keir. Why use effective tactics when useless ones are available?
To be fair, he had a trump card up his sleeve. The Tory manifesto in 2019 specifically ruled out cuts to the size of the military. And in a newspaper interview, Boris said that the number of 82,000 personnel would be maintained. But 10,000 are about to go.
So the PM fibbed. The game was up. And what happened? The greased piglet wriggled free. Boris brushed aside Sir Keir’s evidence and claimed that he’d preserved every job in the army and had invested on all kinds of excitingly destructive new toys. Chunkier tanks, tastier gunboats, zippier fighter-jets and a beefed-up nuclear capability.
It was bit scary to see the PM palpitating with martial bravura at the despatch box. He had that crazed Blair-ite twinkle in his eyes. Was he about to convene a war-cabinet and announce a punitive raid on Calais, a task-force to sink an Argie frigate, the reconquest of Singapore?
Sir Keir’s response was ill-judged. ‘He’s fighting the last war,’ he said dismissively. Astonished giggles greeted this preposterous charge. Fighting the last war? Sir Keir leads a party crammed with political throwbacks who want to try socialism all over again because the voters loved it so much last time.
Boris offered an olive-branch and expressed delight at Labour’s sudden support for Britain’s military might.
‘It’s wonderful to hear the new spirit of jingo that seems to have enveloped some of the Labour benches,’ he beamed.