Four things we learned from this week’s PMQs

How interventionist can, or should, the government be? That is the biggest strategic question facing Boris Johnson. 

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Boris Johnson is in an interventionist mood – but for how long?

Gill Furniss, the Labour member for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, opened with a question that exposed the political and economic challenge facing the Conservative Party in this parliament: would the government intervene to save an ailing steelworks in her constituency?

As Furniss wasted no time in noting, to do anything but would risk the Prime Minister looking as if his administration – contrary to its lofty ambitions on permanently realigning British party politics – did not really care about the industrial and post-industrial communities that voted Tory for the first time last month. 

The Prime Minister, by the way, unsurprisingly answered Furniss in the affirmative. That will have been music to Ben Houchen’s ears: the Tory mayor in the Tees Valley is running for re-election on a pledge to bring back steel-making to his northeast patch. 

In a week which has already seen the government have to facilitate a bailout of British airline Flybe, it also threw Johnson’s biggest strategic – if not existential – question into harsh relief. Just how interventionist can, or should, his government be? His instincts, for now at least, are clear. But are Sajid Javid’s?

The Tories are playing a cute game on the NHS

Jeremy Corbyn had no shortage of material at his disposal after a busy week. He chose to focus on the NHS – territory Boris Johnson, unlike Conservative prime ministers before him, relishes. 

Why? Well, “more money” for the NHS – as much as that claim is fraught with holes and caveats – was a key plank of the Tory election campaign and will continue to be so in government. So much so that Johnson ended his exchange with Corbyn by bellowing that the Conservatives were the real “party of the NHS”. 

Messaging, however, is the easy bit. What about social care, which so badly scuppered Theresa May? Johnson told Corbyn that he would initiate cross-party talks to find consensus. You might call it devolving blame. For Johnson, the politics of the NHS are very straightforward indeed. 

Boris Johnson knows how he wants to detoxify the Tories among Remainers

Thoughtful types in Johnson’s Downing Street know that they must rebuild the Conservative Party’s relationship with social liberals and detoxify its image as the party of Brexit if their electoral success is to endure. 

In response to Labour’s Clive Efford, who asked what the government would do about rising sea water temperatures, Johnson highlighted one of the ways in which he will be able to do so: its record on the environment. Carbon emissions, he stressed, had fallen under the Tories. 

Later, asked by Andrew Rosindell whether he would use Brexit as an opportunity to diverge from EU regulations on animal welfare – to strengthen them – Johnson had a long list of measures up his sleeve too. 

For Johnson, the first year of this parliament is likely to be an extended exercise in sanding the sharper corners off his party’s reputation.

The SNP leadership only has one song – and will keep on playing it

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford returned to a familiar if unsurprising theme for a second consecutive week: a new independence referendum and Johnson’s refusal to offer one. 

The Prime Minister’s formal rejection of Nicola Sturgeon’s request for powers to call a new poll yesterday gave Blackford new ammunition. Why, he asked, was Westminster denying Scotland democracy?

Though SNP backbenchers asked about constituency issues, the priorities of the leadership are clear. Expect to hear variations on this theme until next May’s Holyrood elections. Indeed, Blackford and Johnson are writing the SNP’s script with every exchange.

Patrick Maguire was political correspondent at the New Statesman.

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