With the pomp and pageantry of the King’s Speech over, MPs gathered in the Commons to begin a marathon six days of debate on Rishi Sunak’s programme for government.
The opening salvos were punctuated with the gentle jokes traditionally made after the official opening of parliament, but Keir Starmer today wasted no time in drawing battle lines with the Prime Minister. He began by claiming the Conservatives had become a “divisive” party that saw “the country’s problems as something to be exploited rather than solved”, then turned his attention to Suella Braverman.
The Home Secretary is widely believed to have one eye on the next Tory leadership contest and is a recurring thorn in Sunak’s side, splitting opinion among Conservative backbenchers. Several Tory figures were critical of Braverman at the weekend after she claimed on X, the website formerly known as Twitter, that homelessness was a “lifestyle choice”. She is understood to be pushing Downing Street for a crackdown on homeless people using tents.
There was also alarm at separate comments by the Home Secretary in which she called pro-Palestinian demonstrations “hate marches”. Sunak has himself claimed that protests planned at the same time as Armistice Day this coming weekend were “provocative and disrespectful”, but the gap in rhetoric between the PM and his Home Secretary is clear.
[See also: Charles’s unhappy first King’s Speech]
Calling the King’s Speech a “missed opportunity”, Starmer said the Tories were “devoid of leadership”. He said that Sunak was “happy to follow a Home Secretary who believes homelessness is a ‘lifestyle choice’, and that the job of protecting us all from extremists – the most basic job of government – is legitimate terrain for her divisive brand of politics”. Referencing his previous role as director of public prosecutions, the Labour leader said police and counterterrorism forces’ “job is hard enough already without the Home Secretary using it as a platform for her own ambitions”.
Throwing down a gauntlet to the PM, Starmer urged Sunak to “think very carefully about what she is committing your government to do and think very carefully about the consequences of putting greater demands on public servants at the coalface of keeping us safe”.
Starmer added: “Because without a serious home secretary there cannot be serious government and he cannot be a serious prime minister.”
The remarks are likely to haunt the Prime Minister, who is reported to be considering a cabinet reshuffle. Should he try to restore his authority by sacking Braverman, he risks making a powerful enemy on the backbenches, and one who has made no secret of her ambition to take his job.
And yet, the Labour leader has made it painfully clear to the PM that allowing Braverman to continue in such a senior role is not something that will go ignored by his opponents.