Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
9 November 2022

PMQs: the Gavin Williamson scandal makes Rishi Sunak look weak

The Prime Minister’s lacklustre performance in the Common today will not quell disquiet on the Tory backbenches.

By Freddie Hayward

Rishi Sunak rose to the despatch box today (9 November) with his authority undermined and his judgement under question after Gavin Williamson resigned last night because of bullying allegations. It was not a good way to start your third PMQs. 

Sunak promised professionalism and integrity in his first speech as prime minister, but he leads a party that is divided and pockmarked with scandal. His recitation of that promise in the Commons today elicited laughter from the opposition and scepticism from his own backbenchers. Conservatives appointed the Prime Minister for two primary reasons. First, to prevent financial meltdown. Second, to restore integrity to government. In his first two weeks in the job, he’s been unable to deliver on the second of those. Again, not a good way to start your third PMQs. 

These are easy pickings for Keir Starmer. Last week the Labour leader pressed the PM on the Channel crossings crisis and the escalating situation at migrant processing facilities. This week he had Sunak’s first ministerial resignation to play with. His first three questions revolved around Williamson, looking to portray the Prime Minister as too weak to control his party. Sunak did not do anything to relieve his backbenchers of that impression. At one point, a colleague had to tap him on the shoulder because he hadn’t realised Starmer had finished a question, so engrossed was he in his notes.

Sunak’s jibes are now routine and Starmer has refined the ripostes. The Prime Minister’s main attack line is that the Labour leader also has bad judgement because he tried to get Jeremy Corbyn elected. But, given Starmer spent his first two years as leader purging the party of Corbynism, that won’t suffice. Another is that Starmer supports recent protests such as Just Stop Oil. He doesn’t.

Sunak’s lacklustre performance will not quell disquiet on his backbenches. Disunity breeds disunity. Can Sunak break that cycle? Today’s Prime Minister’s Questions suggests not.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. 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.
THANK YOU

[See also: The decline of text-based social media]

Content from our partners
Insurance: finding sustainable growth in stormy markets
Why public health policy needs to refocus
The five key tech areas for the public sector in 2023