What we learned at this week's PMQs

Keir Starmer is laying a trap for Boris Johnson, the level of support for Greater Manchester is confirmed, and the Tories are doubling down on an inaccurate attack on Sadiq Khan.

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Keir Starmer is laying a trap for Boris Johnson

The Labour leader opened this week's Prime Minister's Questions not with combative questions about imposing tier three for Greater Manchester and Sheffield, but with factual questions about the conditions for exiting the highest level of restrictions. Boris Johnson confirmed that the condition for leaving tier three will be a reinfection or R rate of below one. With broad consensus in the medical world that tier three rules on their own won't bring the R rate down to this extent, Starmer warned that it is the "worst of all worlds. It brings significant economic harm without bringing the virus sufficiently under control enough to exit tier three. Instead of being a solution, tier three is a gateway to weeks and weeks, more likely months and months, of agony...Can the Prime Minister not see the problem if there isn't a clear exit?"

Johnson later said it would "not take much" to get the R rate below one, thereby reversing the exponential rise in cases. Starmer may well refer to this exchange in the months ahead if economic hardship becomes ever more apparent in tier three areas without the restrictions reducing the virus as Johnson predicts, and with no end in sight to the measures. 

[see also: Keir Starmer’s support for a circuit breaker lockdown is smart politics – but it’s not an easy fix]

Boris Johnson confirmed that Greater Manchester will get £60m in support

The Prime Minister confirmed what had been unclear during his press conference yesterday (20 October): that Greater Manchester will receive £60m in economic support, the figure that was on the table yesterday in government negotiations with the region's leaders that broke down. It is less than the sum asked for by Greater Manchester's mayor Andy Burnham and local leaders, who want enough to replicate the national furlough scheme that was offered during the first national lockdown. 

[see also: A lockdown with insufficient financial support is the worst of both worlds]

Boris Johnson is doubling down on an inaccurate line about Sadiq Khan "bankrupting" TfL

The Prime Minister doubled down on claims that Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has "bankrupted" Transport for London (TfL), as the government threatens to impose higher council taxes, a much larger London congestion charge zone and higher Tube and bus fares in return for a £5bn bailout. Several MPs asked questions about the imposition of the £15 congestion charge on thousands more people during this time of economic hardship, and Johnson said the only person accountable was the mayor. Sadiq Khan has since tweeted that, "The PM has lied to the House of Commons. Before Covid I was fixing his mess at TfL, reducing the deficit by 71 per cent since 2016." It is the pandemic that is responsible for the state of TfL's finances, rather than the mayor. This is the latest frontier in the government's battle with local government; and the Conservative effort to dent the Labour lead in forthcoming mayoral elections.

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman

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