James Forsyth

PMQs: Starmer’s caution lets Boris off again

PMQs: Starmer's caution lets Boris off again
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Today was the first PMQs clash between Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer in a packed Commons chamber. Starmer tried to pin down Johnson on whether he could guarantee that no one would have to pay their home to fund their care. Johnson dodged the question. But Starmer was limited by the fact that Labour can’t say how it would raise funds for the NHS backlog and social care, allowing Johnson to claim that Labour has no plan.

Starmer is a naturally cautious politician, but his caution is leaving the field clear for Johnson on social care. Things would have been more difficult for the Prime Minister today if Labour was explicitly backing a tax on assets. Starmer could have said Johnson wants to tax workers to protect wealth, while Labour wants to tax wealth to protect everyone: a harder line for Johnson to deal with.

The packed chamber helped Johnson more than Starmer. The Tory numerical advantage in the room was palpable: Starmer had to battle a load of heckling, and Johnson’s failure to answer the question was often disguised by cheers. If Starmer is to damage Johnson in these exchanges, he is going to have to take more risks.