‘Hold your nerve.’ Rishi’s ill-judged advice to voters last Sunday was perhaps his worst blunder yet. At PMQs it came up half a dozen times. Sir Keir Starmer made the first attempt but he was too verbose to inflict real damage. ‘Rather than lecturing others on holding their nerve why not locate his?’
He exposed Rishi’s confused housing policy and asked if any credible expert believes that the government will reach its house-building target this year. Rishi wriggled deftly and chucked out a few helpful statistics. ‘More homes are meeting our “decent homes” standard, the housing supply is up 10 per cent… and first-time buyers are at a 20-year high.’
Not that any of this helped, as Sir Keir pointed out. ‘He crumbled to his backbenchers and scrapped mandatory targets.’
Both parties are caught in the same dilemma. All MPs want houses built in other MPs’ constituencies. It’s a fight between SW1 and the regions. Central government loves tower-blocks full of taxpayers and local government loves meadows full of butterflies. Rishi said that members of the shadow cabinet had voted for extra housing in Westminster but returned to their constituencies and campaigned for more green fields. Sir Keir barely bothered to take a swing at Rishi today. ‘He’s given up,’ he said with a shrug. But the evidence suggests the contrary.
Rishi is very hard to beat on policy detail (even when his position is plainly contradictory). His eloquence, his memory and his level of preparedness are exceptional and he can deliver an answer as smoothly as a supercomputer. Yet he has warmth and affability too. Sir Keir thinks Rishi is a pushover so his attacks lack force or acuity.