Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
15 June 2022

PMQs: Keir Starmer dodges the Rwanda trap

The Labour leader avoided a row over deportations and doubled down on the issue likely to dominate the next general election: the cost-of-living crisis.

By Freddie Hayward

Maybe it was the warm weather, but MPs on both sides of the chamber were louder, rowdier and more excited than usual at today’s Prime Minister’s Questions (15 June). Boris Johnson certainly looked red-faced as he rose to the despatch box, barely audible among the cries from his backbenchers.

The heat was getting to Keir Starmer too. At recent PMQs, the Labour leader has flirted with a sense of humour. But any hesitancy about the need for gags has been totally jettisoned since his shadow cabinet anonymously briefed this week that their leader was “boring voters to death”. Gone was “lawyerly”, “forensic” Starmer, in came Starmer who compares the Prime Minister to Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars and claims he was giving the public “the ick”. To add to the theatrics, at one point Starmer threw his arms open to the benches opposite and boldly read out disparaging quotes about their leader, calling on them to own up.

[ See also: What does Christopher Geidt’s resignation mean for Labour? ]

Starmer’s comedic escapades were naturally met with moos and boos from the Tory benches. But he at least made sure to return to the cost-of-living crisis after each gag. “When did screwing business [queue more oohs from the Tory benches, seemingly delighted at the connotations of the word “screwing”] turn from a flippant comment into economic policy?” The combination of gags and dire economic figures proved too much for some. One Tory MP resorted to putting her fingers in her ears, while a member of the public gallery crossed his arms, closed his eyes and appeared to have a nap. 

But amid Starmer’s attempts to prove that he, in fact, is not boring and he has, in fact, watched his zeitgeist tape, a strategy for Labour emerged. Keir Starmer had a choice at today’s PMQs: comply with the government’s attempt to shift the conversation on to the Northern Ireland protocol and deportations to Rwanda, or double down on the issue that will likely dominate the next general election: the cost-of-living crisis. His first question – “Mr Speaker, Britain is set for lower growth than every major economy except Russia. Why?” – made his decision clear. That decision seemed to unnerve the Prime Minister who frantically tried to bring up this summer’s planned railway disruption, calling on Starmer to denounce “Labour’s rail strikes”. While Starmer happily said he didn’t want the strikes to happen, the question for Labour is whether it can maintain the focus on the cost-of-living crisis in the months to come.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

[See also: “Keir Starmer is too interested in not being Jeremy Corbyn”]

Content from our partners
Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis
Data on cloud will change the way you interact with the government
Defining a Kodak culture for the future