It can be difficult sometimes to declare a victor at Prime Minister’s Questions. Exchanges are often hard-fought, even-handed affairs in which neither opponent really lands a blow. But today was not such a day, with Keir Starmer recording the parliamentary equivalent of a three-nil thumping at the despatch box. Rather than dwell on last week’s Autumn Statement, Starmer opted to focus on record migration figures instead – a sensible move, given the very public Tory divides.
With polls pointing to its increasing salience as a political issue, the Labour leader laid into the government, repeatedly punching a self-inflicted Conservative bruise. Humour was a favoured gambit, with Starmer’s beginning his exchange with Rishi Sunak by making light of the Elgin marbles row: ‘The Prime Minster spent this week arguing about an ancient relic that only a tiny minority of the British public have interest in. But Mr Speaker, that’s enough about the Tory party…’
Sunak doubled down in his response, attacking his Greek equivalent for trying to ‘grandstand’ on his visit here. He referenced a private assurance about what would be said in public about the marbles, adding that he expects people to keep their word. It prompted the inevitable punchline from Starmer, who claimed Sunak ought to be working with Athens on stopping the small boats. ‘Never mind the British Museum,’ he told the House, ‘it’s the Prime Minister that has obviously lost his marbles’ – a joke as old as the ancient Athenians themselves.
Other lines from Starmer are more likely to stick. The most memorable was his claim that Sunak ‘has the reverse Midas touch. Everything he touches turns to… maybe the Home Secretary can help me out.’ This line, a reference to the row over James Cleverly’s comments, echoes what some Tory MPs are privately fearing themselves: that no matter what Sunak does, he is unlikely to get any political credit for it.