Isabel Hardman

PMQs: Johnson’s shtick isn’t working

PMQs: Johnson's shtick isn't working
(Photo by Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)
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Sir Keir Starmer enjoyed himself again at Prime Minister's Questions today. He came armed with plenty of very good lines, and of course had more than enough government messes with which to poke Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister, for his part, had more fire in his belly than last week, presumably because he's managed to get rid of his cold. But he didn't manage to rescue his authority after a very tricky three weeks.

The Labour leader focused most of his questions on the social care revolt this week, asking Johnson why he had promised that no-one would have to sell their home when that has turned out not to be the case. The Prime Minister replied with the careful formulation of words that he's been using to claim that he isn't breaking that promise after all: he insisted to the Commons that 'if you and your spouse are living in your home', then the government will not count it as an asset for the means test. That is quite different to 'no-one' having to sell their home and is another illustration of Johnson's tendency to create a mess by promising the impossible.

Starmer argued Johnson had 'just described the broken system he says he is fixing', then joked that Tory MPs, who were very noisy in this session, had turned up this week. He then asked whether, if this Prime Minister made it to the next election, anyone could take his promises seriously, before describing the Downing Street approach to reform as being 'a Covent Garden pickpocketing operation', with Johnson charming people while the Chancellor took away their money. But people were beginning to worry that the operation wasn't working so well anymore, he said, asking the most memorable line of the session: 'Is everything OK, Prime Minister?'

Johnson retorted that this line of attack wasn't working, resorting once again to his Captain Hindsight keeping everyone in lockdown line that he tends to use when he's struggling a bit. He didn't leave the session with more problems. But the comparison between the spontaneous and noisy laughter at Starmer's lines and the orchestrated defensive noises coming from the Tory benches told its own story: Johnson's normal shtick isn't working either.