James Forsyth

PMQs: Starmer failed to land his punch

PMQs: Starmer failed to land his punch
(Photo by Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)
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Today’s PMQs was not an enlightening affair. Keir Starmer tried to drag out of Boris Johnson an admission that the England-wide lockdown would continue past 2 December if the virus was not in retreat. But Johnson dodged that question.

Of more concern for Labour will be the fact that Starmer failed to land his most effective point: that Johnson has now adopted the policy Labour was calling for on 13 October. The move from a regional system of tiered restrictions to a nationwide lockdown is a big shift from Johnson — but Starmer couldn’t pithily sum that up today. Indeed, Johnson claimed that there were signs that the regional, tiered system was working, which does make you wonder why he didn’t give it more time.

In response to a question from the SNP leader Ian Blackford, Johnson said that Rishi Sunak would make a statement on furlough tomorrow. This will have to clear up the confusion about whether the Treasury would fund a furlough scheme in Scotland if Nicola Sturgeon opted for a lockdown there in, say, January, when the rest of the UK was not in lockdown.

Sajid Javid, the former chancellor, asked a question about schools, highlighting the importance of keeping them open for disadvantaged kids. He emphasised the centrality of education to Johnson's 'levelling up' agenda — he’s right on this, but his emphasis was interesting. Johnson responded with a paean to the benefits of one-to-one tuition.

Overall, today’s PMQs was less difficult for Johnson than many would have expected on Saturday. His own side, while grumpy, is not in outright rebellion and Starmer hasn’t yet managed to sum up how much the government’s position has changed.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.

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