Today’s pre-Budget Prime Minister’s Questions would probably have been unremarkable had it not been for a sudden change of cast. At the very last minute, it was announced that Sir Keir Starmer had tested positive for Covid and would be replaced in the chamber by a blast from his party’s past in the form of Ed Miliband.
The former Labour leader joked that his return to this session was for one time only, before launching into a series of questions about the government’s preparation for the COP summit. He accused Boris Johnson of offering warm words only and of undermining his efforts by cutting international aid — something Rishi Sunak has just promised to reverse — while the Prime Minister insisted that he was working to try to ensure that the necessary agreements could be reached. The session will be largely forgotten but Miliband did use it to lay down a marker on what Labour’s attack lines on COP could be: he warned that the Prime Minister must keep the summit focused on 2030 and not shift the goalposts. Johnson insisted that he wouldn’t.
Tory MPs laughed to see Miliband back doing Labour’s questions in this session. They see him as an emblem of the wrong direction Labour swerved off in after its loss in 2010, but his substitution today shows how much Starmer values this former leader. As I revealed earlier this autumn, Team Starmer see Miliband as one of their ‘key thinkers’. He is clearly also now one of their key speakers.
Tory MPs were largely focused on ensuring that the session was as pointless as possible, with one asking whether Johnson might fancy sampling some local carbon neutral cheese, and another praising a constituent who had written a song about climate change.