Rishi Sunak’s nightmare PMQs

Wow. For Rishi fans, that was one to forget. The Tory leader lacked his usual fluency and focus at PMQs today. Instead of a hungry whippet leaping out of the traps, we watched a fretful hare being chased around the circuit. If mockery won votes, this was a landslide Rishi’s sub-par effort coincided with a rare display of competence from Sir Keir Starmer who, for once, used clever tactics at the despatch box. He cooked up a difficult to answer question and asked it again and again. Why doesn’t he do that every week? Rishi kept parroting the same non-answers which made him look feeble. The issue was Rwanda, and

Oliver Dowden’s textbook turn at PMQs

Oliver Dowden had 20 years and four Tory leaders to prepare him for his understudy moment at PMQs. He’s helped a series of leaders work out their attack lines, their defences and their jokes – so it’s unsurprising that his chance at the despatch box sparring with Angela Rayner was so textbook that he should probably offer it in a seminar on a Skills in Politics Course for aspiring Tory leaders. It was anatomically perfect: there was the opening joke about the opposition (‘I was, though, expecting to face the Labour leader’s choice for deputy prime minister if they win the election, so I’m surprised that the Lib Dem leader isn’t taking

PMQs proved that we have too many politicians

PMQs drove up a cul-de-sac today. Sir Keir’s team of researchers have discovered a crime blackspot where ten houses have been burgled in the last 18 months, but only one of these offences has ended up in court. This delighted Sir Keir as it gave him a chance to remind the world that he once worked as a prosecutor. Even better, the benighted cul-de-sac happens to be in Yorkshire where Rishi Sunak’s constituency is located. Crime dominated the session because Sir Keir brought up Baroness Casey’s end-of-term report on the London police force. The cops have fluffed it, according to the baroness, and their ranks are now overflowing with sexists,

Liz Truss’s epic blandness

Liz Truss faced her first proper grilling at PMQs. Her debut, last month, was a softball affair but today Keir Starmer went in with both fists swinging. He asked her to endorse Jacob Rees-Mogg’s view that ‘turmoil in the markets has nothing to do with the Budget’. ‘What we have done,’ said Liz, pleasantly, ‘we have taken decisive action to make sure that people are not facing energy bills of £6,000 for two years.’ Sir Keir, already hopping mad, blasted her for ignoring his specific point. ‘Avoiding the question, ducking responsibility, lost in denial,’ he said viciously. He mentioned a young couple from Wolverhampton, Zac and Rebecca, who last week

Liz Truss’s first PMQs felt like a dress rehearsal

That felt like a dress rehearsal. Liz Truss sailed through her first PMQs which will probably be her easiest. It may turn out to have been her best. When she arrived, the House burst into ecstasies of joy as if she’d just found the cure for malaria, solved the Jack the Ripper case and liberated Hong Kong. The questions lobbed at her were as soft as pizza dough, and each was prefixed with a note of congratulation and welcome. The mood was warm enough even to thaw the frost that covers Theresa May. Suspending her sulk for a moment she made an ironic observation. ‘Why does she think it is

Isabel Hardman

Liz Truss’s well-scripted first PMQs

Liz Truss’s first Prime Minister’s Questions was well-scripted, both for the new Tory leader and Keir Starmer. They had come along planning to talk about the cost of living crisis: Truss so that she could reassure the public (and her own party) that ‘immediate action to help people with their bills’ was on the way, and Starmer to probe her on how she was going to pay for it. The exchanges worked for both of them this time around. The exchanges worked for both of them this time around Because Truss is going for an energy price freeze – proposed by Labour – Starmer had to move his attack from

PMQs was a blue-on-blue bloodbath

Knife crime beset PMQs. It was a horrific blue-on-blue bloodbath as Tory backstabbers queued up to play the role of Brutus and hack Caesar to death. David Davis shoved in his stiletto and claimed that the PM’s lack of integrity would ‘paralyse proper government.’ Mind you, he said that six months ago. ‘I thank him very much for the point he has made again,’ said Boris. Super-sulky Tim Loughton asked, ‘does he think there are any circumstances in which he should resign?’ ‘Being a good father, husband, son and citizen is enough for me,’ claimed the arch-plotter Boris fought back. ‘The job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances, when he’s

Isabel Hardman

PMQs will only encourage further rebellion

At one point in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, the Speaker called MPs to order and told them: ‘We’ve got to get through Prime Minister’s Questions.’ This was an instruction to backbenchers who were shouting at one another across the chamber. But it sounded like an ambitious goal for Boris Johnson. He barely got through the truly brutal, angry session. He barely got through the truly brutal, angry session Sir Keir Starmer led on the allegations of sexual assault against Chris Pincher, and on why the Prime Minister had made him deputy chief whip when he knew about Pincher’s behaviour. His questions and lines were strong, Johnson’s were exhausted and irrelevant.

PMQs: Partygate isn’t Johnson’s only problem

Sir Keir Starmer used Prime Minister’s Questions today to show how hard it is going to be for Boris Johnson to move on from the Sue Gray report. The Labour leader acknowledged as he opened that there was going to be a statement on that inquiry right after this session, and so he was going to focus on the cost of living. It underlined that even if the Prime Minister manages to keep his backbenchers sufficiently calm to ‘survive’ the Gray report, that survival is not going to be followed by a swift recovery of his political fortunes. Long-time critic of the Prime Minister William Wragg asked a zinger of

PMQs: The return of Pestminster?

Prime Minister’s Questions opened with Sir Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson agreeing that the anonymous briefing about Angela Rayner was unacceptable. The Labour leader speculated that Johnson would have ‘whipped his backbenchers to scream and shout – and that’s fine’, before demanding that he send a ‘clear message that there’s no place for sexism or misogyny’. Johnson has been consistent on this point, rushing to distance himself from the story as soon as it emerged. It has, though, sparked a wider debate about sexism in misogyny in parliament which is likely to dominate the agenda into next week too: on which more below. Starmer’s questions, though, were dominated by the cost of

PMQs: Starmer’s attacks are working

Prime Minister’s Questions took a rather bizarre twist this afternoon when the Labour leader ended up demanding Boris Johnson apologise to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Prime Minister reportedly complained to Tory MPs last night about Justin Welby’s criticism of the government’s Rwanda asylum policy. Sources at the meeting said Johnson had claimed Welby was ‘less vociferous’ about Vladimir Putin than he had about this policy – something the Church of England has already condemned as a ‘disgraceful slur’. Johnson did not apologise, instead saying:  I was slightly taken aback for the government to be criticised over the policy that we have devised to end the deaths at sea in the Channel as

PMQs: Boris let slip his election attack lines

Covid is ancient history. And Ukraine has ceased to dominate PMQs. Today, ideological warfare between the parties broke out again. The old politics is back. Sir Keir Starmer accused the Chancellor of fibbing during last week’s bogus budget. Tax hikes had been camouflaged as tax cuts. Boris denied this and praised his Chancellor for delivering a historic bonanza of golden giveaways. ‘The biggest cut in fuel duty ever. And the biggest cut in tax for working people in the last 10 years.’ Sir Keir silenced him. ‘Cut the nonsense and treat the British people with a bit of respect.’ The tax burden is soaring, he said, and for every pound

PMQs: Keir Starmer’s questionable parliamentary language

Keir Starmer was clearly keen today to make sure people remembered what is normally a rather pointless PMQs session before an economic statement. The Labour leader did so by using slightly questionable language, calling Boris Johnson ‘half-arsed’. MPs will debate whether or not this was parliamentary language (he couldn’t have called the Prime Minister a ‘stoolpigeon’ or ‘pecksniffian’, so he had clearly chosen his words carefully). His reason for accusing Johnson of this was that he didn’t think the Prime Minister had fully engaged with the case of the 800 sacked P&O ferry workers. The pair had a rather impatient exchange on this matter, with Starmer repeatedly saying Johnson didn’t

Rayner grills Raab over Lebedev and Saudi oil

When Angela Rayner faces Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions, it is obvious that both sides rather enjoy the exchanges. When she’s up against Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, as she was today, it feels like more of a grudge match. The session naturally centred around Ukraine, but as is Rayner’s habit, it was more political than previous PMQs. Labour’s deputy made her theme the government’s failure to ensure Britain’s oil security and links to Russian oligarchs. Much of her attack was about flaws in the absent Prime Minister’s own character: the first question was whether Johnson’s comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe when he was Foreign Secretary had made the situation

The SNP won’t be happy until Boris is charged with war crimes

Blood streams through Ukraine. Tears run through parliament. At PMQs today, numerous members urged Boris to show more compassion towards Ukraine’s refugees. Poland has already taken 1.2 million. Barely a thousand have been received here, as Boris confirmed, but the number will rise sharply. Leading the pro-refugee campaign was the SNP’s Ian Blackford who seems to represent every region on earth apart from his own constituency. In a venomous speech he charged the home secretary, Priti Patel, with imposing a ‘hostile environment’ on refugees for ‘ideological’ reasons. Well, well. No one could accuse the SNP of embracing xenophobia for political gain. Blackford lambasted the government for ‘putting up barriers and

Starmer leads on oligarchs at a strange PMQs

Prime Minister’s Questions today had a strange tonal disconnect to it. The session began with a standing ovation for the Ukrainian ambassador Vadym Prystaiko, who was watching from the gallery. Normally, clapping is banned in the Commons, but today the Speaker tore up protocol and MPs from across the house (and journalists, who by convention don’t clap anything) stood up to applaud Prystaiko. It was a moving moment. But it was not matched by the tone of Boris Johnson, either in his exchanges with Keir Starmer or indeed in the rest of the session. The Labour leader chose to focus on sanctions and economic crime. He asked why certain oligarchs,

PMQs: Boris Johnson faces pressure to be tougher on Russia

Boris Johnson came under sustained pressure at PMQs today to introduce tougher sanctions against Russia. Both Sir Keir Starmer and Ian Blackford pressed the Prime Minister on the matter, with the Labour leader opening his questions by arguing that given a sovereign country had been invaded, ‘if not now, when’ would the government unleash a full package of sanctions. Starmer repeatedly said the Labour party was supportive of what had been announced so far but that it wanted much more from the government. This included cracking down on the Russian state-backed broadcaster RT, which he said should be prevented from spreading Vladimir Putin’s propaganda around the world. Johnson argued that

James Forsyth

Why we shouldn’t ban Russia Today

Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, has written to Ofcom urging it to keep the situation with Russia Today ‘very carefully under review’ given events in Ukraine. At PMQs, Keir Starmer called for the government to ask Ofcom to review RT’s license.  But if RT lost its broadcast license in the UK, then Putin would use this as an excuse to kick out the BBC and other British broadcasters. Just look at how Russia closed the Moscow office of Deutsche Welle, the German public service broadcaster, and ended the accreditation of its journalists after a German-language version of RT was taken off air in Germany. The least-worst option would be for

PMQs: Boris doubles down on Jimmy Savile claims

Today’s PMQs suggests that some of the immediate heat has gone the partygate crisis, if only temporarily. Sir Keir Starmer did not make all his questions about parties, instead widening out his attacks to Conservative tax policy. The faces of most of his backbenchers froze as he doubled down, saying that Starmer had apologised for what the CPS had done Starmer did though open by complaining about the behaviour of the Prime Minister in Monday’s statement on the Gray report, saying that the leader of the party of Winston Churchill was now repeating the conspiracies of ‘violent fascists to try and score cheap political points’. Curiously, Boris Johnson chose to

Lindsay Hoyle is turning into John Bercow

Sir Keir Starmer has a weakness, and the Tories have spotted it. His weakness is Sir Lindsay Hoyle. The Speaker likes to interrupt PMQs when noise in the chamber exceeds a threshold known only to him. During Sir Keir’s cross-examination of Boris today, he broke in three times to deliver pompous mini-sermons that might have been scripted by John Bercow. ‘Our constituents are very interested to hear this,’ said Hoyle, having told Sir Keir to sit down. The rowdies were ordered to ‘please leave quietly’. No one left. That should have told him that a game was afoot. He himself pointed out that the shouts and jibes originate from the