Lloyd Evans

PMQs: Keir Starmer is too clever by half

PMQs: Keir Starmer is too clever by half
(Photo by Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)
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Sir Keir’s approach to PMQs is so brilliant it might be rather foolish. He shows up each Wednesday as if he were attending a particularly complicated fraud trial, full of unique and intriguing features, which will one day furnish material for a lecture at Inner Temple. It’s super-technical. It makes your brain itch. And anyone can see why the Labour leader enjoys this fact-based approach — his head actually looks like a filing cabinet.

The last seven months have created a huge archive of evidence, statistics and scientific statements which Sir Keir seems to have learned by rote.

Today he started with a history lesson. He took us back to early May when the Prime Minister said something. Then he skipped to mid-September when Sage said something else. These statements looked inconsistent.

'Why has he abandoned the science and rejected that advice?’ asked Sir Keir.

Boris challenged the basis of the question and quoted Sage’s advice that ‘all interventions have associated costs in terms of health and well-being.’ So the scientists are dabbling in sociology and economics too. And what’s wrong with that?

Sir Keir quoted other apparent inconsistencies. This pick-and-mix approach works to some extent but it has serious drawbacks. It’s hardly box-office. It doesn’t generate headlines. And it makes Sir Keir look sly and calculating — the zealous prefect roaming the dormitories looking for chocolate eclairs to confiscate.

Boris asked him to back the government’s three-tiered restrictions. ‘I do,’ Sir Keir said. ‘But I don’t think it goes far enough.’

This was a historic moment in his leadership. Finally, he had announced an item of Labour policy at PMQs. And the policy was this: go home, close everything, barricade the high streets, and don’t come out till we say it’s safe. It sounded like the 1970s.

The leaders fought themselves to a draw today. Sir Keir was belligerent, his questioning relentless. Occasionally, his anger showed. When he caught Boris out on a minor point, he scolded, ‘Keep up, Prime Minister.’ And he resorted to personal abuse for the first time. Boris, he said, ‘has been an opportunist all his life.’

If Sir Keir considers himself Boris’s moral superior he should keep it quiet. Voters don’t like a prig.

After their tussle, we went to Scotland to meet Ian Blackford of the SNP. The permanently indignant MP likes to broadcast from different parts of his estate. Sometimes he’s in an airy drawing room with large windows and pretty curtains. Sometimes he arranges himself in a cosy study at a desk crowded with family keepsakes. But these charming possessions do nothing to assuage the fury that boils and belches within him like a restless volcano.

Today, he showed us a new wing of his country seat, a cheerless enclosure lined with granite blocks. Was this the dungeon? His surroundings were in tune with his mood as he heaped curses on the Prime Minister for refusing to extend the furlough scheme.

‘I’m demanding a U-turn on his reckless plans,’ he said. And he predicted, ‘a tsunami of unemployment for our people.’

Boris declined to obey the ultimatum. Which drove Blackford even wilder. He wasn’t just angry. He was shedding hair. His ribs were buckling under the strain. Wrath was frothing out of his nose.

‘He will never, NOT EVER, be forgiven,’ raged the Caledonian Krakatoa.

Written byLloyd Evans

Lloyd Evans is The Spectator's sketch-writer and theatre critic

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