Katy Balls

PMQs: Starmer is haunted by the ghost of Corbynism

PMQs: Starmer is haunted by the ghost of Corbynism
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Keir Starmer has of late come under pressure from his shadow cabinet to, in their words, stop 'boring everyone to death'. In response, the Labour leader has told his colleagues that really 'what’s boring is being in opposition'. However, the comments appear to have got under his skin. At today's Prime Minister's Questions, Starmer was notably more confrontational – attacking Boris Johnson on several counts.

After the Labour leader failed to capitalise on Johnson's internal party woes last week, following the Prime Minister's no-confidence vote from his own MPs, Starmer attempted to remedy things. He used the session to call Johnson an 'ostrich prime minister' with his head in the sand. Starmer went on the offensive, pointing out low growth in the economy and criticism Johnson has received from his own MPs.

The Prime Minister attempted to return fire by pressing Starmer for a position on the planned rail strikes – and bringing up his government's plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. The fact that Johnson brought this up of his own accord – the day after the failed first flight – shows how the government believes it can win political capital from those trying to thwart the policy.

The attack lines ought to have been uncomfortable for Johnson. But Starmer offered him ways out. Where the Labour leader struggled most was when he started quoting what Tory MPs had said about Johnson. One of these was a hostile document passed around Tory MPs that called Johnson 'the Conservative Corbyn'. He said this was not meant as a compliment.

However, given Starmer served in Corbyn's shadow cabinet, helped campaign to get him elected and also talked up Corbyn in his leadership campaign, the attack line backfired. Johnson was able to brush off the criticism by simply pointing out that Starmer's connections to Corbyn were far stronger than his. The session showed that for all the current criticism of Starmer, stepping out of his comfort zone comes with risks of its own.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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