Let’s hear it for Phil. The unexpected hero of PMQs was an Iceland employee in Warrington (referred to as ‘Phil’, no surname given) whom Sir Keir Starmer held up as a victim of Tory fiscal mismanagement. Doubtless poor Phil had no idea his personal circumstances were about to dominate today’s parliamentary punch-up.
The session began as a typical ding-dong between the party leaders who accused each other of lies, failure and incompetence. Sir Keir asked Rishi Sunak to detail the costs faced by a typical mortgage-holder with a fixed-term deal that expires this week. To the surprise of no one, except Sir Keir, Rishi rattled off the precise figures. So Sir Keir ruled Rishi’s unanswerable reply out of order.
‘People face huge mortgage increases,’ he said, ‘but he won’t do them the courtesy of answering the question. I’ll ask again.’
‘I’ll point him back to my previous answer,’ said Rishi, adding that mortgage holders will benefit from the ‘mortgage charter’ cooked up by him and Jeremy Hunt.
Sir Keir got ready to fire his secret weapon. ‘The government crashed the economy,’ he began, but his attack was interrupted by the Speaker who seemed unusually bad tempered today. He shot angrily to his feet. This forced Sir Keir to resume his seat.
‘The Chef Whip’s getting very carried away,’ said the Speaker before plonking himself back down again. This was Sir Keir’s cue to start again.
‘Working people are paying the price for the damage done to the economy. Like Phil,’ he said, ‘from Iceland in Warrington.’
Tory jeers greeted the word ‘Phil’, and the Speaker jumped up again, interrupting Sir Keir a second time. ‘It’s the same voice,’ said the Speaker, wagging his finger vaguely towards the government benches, ‘and it if keeps appearing it won’t appear any more.’