Sue Gray’s report was published 30 minutes before the start of PMQs and Johnson received a raucous, if overwrought, cheer as he entered the chamber. But rather than flaunt Gray’s findings, Starmer used his six questions to pile pressure on the Prime Minister for the cost-of-living crisis. It was a wise move: Johnson would flick any questions on Downing Street parties away by deferring to his statement to the House in the afternoon.
Starmer was certainly more chipper and less dour than usual. His solemnity was still there but it was sprinkled with attempts at humour. With the government’s U-turn on a windfall tax on energy companies looking imminent, Starmer was anxious that voters remembered it was originally a Labour policy. “I’m told hindsight is a wonderful thing,” joked Starmer before accusing the Prime Minister of “dither and delay”. Starmer has learned from the best.
Starmer’s attacks and jibes rattled Johnson who flew his finger across the despatch box and bounced around scrambling for answers. He cried about Ukraine at one point, before turning around to look for support from his backbenchers. His performance elicited such an unusually loud combination of moos and boos from opposition benches that the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, asked Johnson to return to his seat and await the next question.
“Thank you, Mr Speaker,” began the Tory MP Graham Stuart. “When the Prime Minister gets passionate, things get done.” But he couldn’t go on because the chamber was roaring with laughter. For the first time in a while, they were laughing at the Prime Minister.
Hear from the UK’s leading politicians on the most pressing policy questions facing the UK at NS Politics Live, in London. Speakers include Sir Keir Starmer, Ben Wallace, Lisa Nandy, Sajid Javid, Professor Sarah Gilbert, Jeremy Hunt, Layla Moran and Andrew Marr. Find out more about the New Statesman’s flagship event on the 28 June here.