Covid is ancient history. And Ukraine has ceased to dominate PMQs. Today, ideological warfare between the parties broke out again. The old politics is back. Sir Keir Starmer accused the Chancellor of fibbing during last week’s bogus budget. Tax hikes had been camouflaged as tax cuts.
Boris denied this and praised his Chancellor for delivering a historic bonanza of golden giveaways. ‘The biggest cut in fuel duty ever. And the biggest cut in tax for working people in the last 10 years.’ Sir Keir silenced him. ‘Cut the nonsense and treat the British people with a bit of respect.’ The tax burden is soaring, he said, and for every pound given away, six pounds were being taken back. His solution? A one-off tax grab from Big Oil whose profits are on the rise.
Boris said this would hurt inward investment, and he turned his guns on Labour’s disregard for energy security during their 13 years in power. He travelled back to 1997 when the Labour manifesto had claimed ‘there is no economic case for more nuclear power’. This ancient dividing line suited Sir Keir. ‘The Conservatives are the party of excess oil and gas profits. We are the party of working people.’
He waited till the end of his six questions to drop his bombshell. He reminded Boris of his claim that no one at Downing Street had broken the law during lockdown. And yet the cops are now issuing fines for ‘widespread criminality’.
‘Why is he still here?’ asked Sir Keir. Boris rode a wave of cries and catcalls from all sides of the house. He threw out his arms in mock outrage. ‘Hang on! Hang on a minute,’ he blustered. ‘He’s just changed his position. We do at least expect some consistency from this human weathervane. Only a week ago he said I shouldn’t resign.’
Hardly a robust defence. What followed was even feebler. ‘Of course the investigators must get on with their job. In the meantime we are getting on with our job.’ The body language was revealing. Boris’s guilty jowls trembled hesitantly and his posture seemed uncertain. He felt quicksand beneath him. A wobble, clearly. And Sir Keir will exploit this vulnerability in future if he has the sense to decipher Boris’s physical signals.
Class warrior Ian Blackford of the SNP has brought some new recruits into his team. He seems to employ a posse of spies who fan out each evening across Westminster to record evidence of Tories sipping champagne. Last night his fizz wardens spotted Conservatives sampling champers at a swanky hotel.
‘They partied during lockdown,’ thundered Blackford, ‘and they’re partying through the cost of living emergency.’ Boris was clearly amused to see the SNP’s chief pie-taster condemning others for enjoying hospitality. ‘He, like me, is a living testament to moderation in all things,’ said Boris, smirking at his fellow trencherman. Blackford blew his top. ‘What an absolute load of baloney,’ he yelled.
Labour backbenchers kept hammering the cost-of-living crisis. And Boris replied along tribal lines. Labour, he said, wants more taxes and increased benefits. And they’re plotting to take Britain back into the EU. A penitent Johnny Mercer, once a Boris foe, praised the PM for leading the international effort to clobber Putin with sanctions. This buoyed Boris up and he threw an accusing finger at Sir Keir.
‘Can anybody imagine that eight of his front bench voted to get rid of our nuclear deterrent? Yes, they did!’ These are the attack lines for the next election. Boris will accuse Labour of hating Britain, of loving the EU and of taxing businesses to fund benefits. He and Sir Keir were undergraduates in the 1980s. And both feel comfortable on this turf. We’re returning to the student politics of the Thatcher era.