Isabel Hardman

PMQs: Johnson strains over ‘gesture politics’

PMQs: Johnson strains over 'gesture politics'
(Photo by Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)
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Boris Johnson's uncomfortable session at Prime Minister's Questions was largely of his own making rather than the work of Keir Starmer. As I wrote earlier, the Tories have tied themselves in knots over the question of taking the knee to the extent that they are now open to accusations that they don't really care about racism. The Labour leader did a reasonable job of prosecuting the various statements made by Johnson and others, including Priti Patel's comment that it was 'gesture politics'. 

That Johnson was nervous about the theme of the session became obvious when he brandished a leaflet from the Batley and Spen by-election which he demanded Labour retract. Prime Ministers don't tend to make a habit of carrying out of date by-election literature in their handbags unless they are hoping to use it as a protective shield.

Johnson had also brought along a few pieces of evidence that he hoped showed how deeply he and the government cared about tackling racism. These included meeting social media companies and warning them that the government would be legislating to force them to take online abuse seriously. He had also prepared his standard soliloquy about vaccination versus vacillation, though it ended with the strange accusation that Starmer 'simply wants to get on with dithering', which doesn't make a great deal of sense.

The Labour leader had his own retorts, mocking Johnson for 'putting an England shirt over a shirt and tie while not condemning those booing', which he said was 'the worst kind of gesture'. Johnson isn't a natural football supporter and looked uncomfortable enough in that England shirt. Today he looked even more uncomfortable in the bed he'd made for himself on 'gesture politics'.