Taunting the Prime Minister for being forced to correct the record over job numbers last week, the Labour leader asked: “Can he provide a further update now he has cost 1,000 Tory councillors their jobs?”
The Conservatives’ losses in the elections last week (4 May) were even greater than the worst-case scenario in the party’s predictions. So it wasn’t a surprise that today Sunak stayed in his safe zone rather than grappling with any of the difficult realities he faces. He referenced comments by Tony Blair to David Cameron in 2007 and attempted to offer Starmer a “tiny bit of advice”, suggesting he can be “as cocky as he likes” but “come a general election comes, policy counts”, adding: “The problem for him [Starmer] is, he doesn’t have any.”
[See also: Is Keir Starmer the heir to Boris Johnson?]
Starmer continued to enjoy himself, however, quipping of Sunak’s defeat to Liz Truss in the Conservative leadership race last summer: “[he] keeps entering a two-horse race and finishing third”.
Sunak hit back, declaring that Starmer has “broken every single promise” he was elected on as Labour leader, including commitments to nationalisation, and to end NHS outsourcing and tuition fees. He branded Starmer “not just Sir Softy, but Sir Flaky too”. Sunak may think this attack leaves Starmer exposed, but in reality it may help him underline to voters that Labour’s policy positions are actually quite clear, if not as detailed as they will be once its general election manifesto is published.
Starmer then challenged Sunak to help people with the cost of living and cut council tax, but here he ventured onto trickier territory for Labour: the economy.
The PM turned his attention to Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, saying she would soon – “shock horror” – have to “say where the money is going to come from”. He claimed Labour had a £90bn hole in its plans and that Reeves has “got a lot of work to do”. After Truss’s mini-Budget last year, however, Starmer will always be able to reply, as he did: “There is only one party that broke the economy and it is sitting right there.”
Sunak again plumped for rather tired attack lines, criticising the budget deficit left by Labour in 2010, claiming Labour wanted a longer Covid lockdown and accusing Starmer of backing public sector strikes. “Even in opposition, he is damaging the economy,” Sunak claimed, before adding that in his 40s Starmer was “still talking about abolishing the monarchy”, none of which Starmer dignified with a response.
Today’s PMQs felt like a victory parade for Labour as Sunak maintains a holding position for a Conservative government trying to regroup.
[See also: What could go wrong for Keir Starmer?]