Keir Starmer is not finished yet – he asked the right questions at PMQs

The Labour leader had his back to the wall but came out fighting in the Commons, writes John Rentoul

Wednesday 19 May 2021 17:53
<p>Keir Starmer tells the prime minister we are an island nation at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday</p>

Keir Starmer tells the prime minister we are an island nation at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday

Keir Starmer showed some character in Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). He came to the chamber with his leadership being written off, in the depths of an opinion-poll trough, but he held his nerve and asked the questions the people want answered. Boris Johnson waffled and blustered in reply, and tried to claim he was focused on “the people’s priorities” – a New Labour phrase that he has adopted – but it was Starmer who better represented the people’s priorities today.

People are worried about variants of coronavirus, particularly the Indian variant, and they think the measures to stop them coming into the UK are inadequate, which was the subject of Starmer’s first question. Against this anxiety, all the prime minister could offer was that “we” have “looked at the data again this morning, and we have increasing confidence that vaccines are effective against all variants, including the Indian variant”.

Such vague statements do little to reassure people. Starmer knows that, and he knows that on public health and borders, public opinion is censorious, punitive and isolationist. So much so that good Labour internationalists might start to feel uncomfortable when their leader says: “We are an island nation; we have the power to stop this.” But Starmer is fighting for his survival and this is politics.

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