Tables turned at PMQs: Boris Johnson floundered as Keir Starmer won the rhetorical battle

The Labour leader had no solutions, but he looked in charge at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, writes John Rentoul

Wednesday 22 June 2022 15:42
<p>It was too late. Keir Starmer had won the moment in the chamber</p>

It was too late. Keir Starmer had won the moment in the chamber

We took our places for Leader of the Opposition’s Questions, expecting Boris Johnson to ask Keir Starmer six times to condemn the rail strikes. But because everyone expected the prime minister to do it, he was robbed of the element of surprise.

That advantage lay with Starmer instead, who started by praising the “plucky” Conservative candidate in tomorrow’s Wakefield by-election. It was a well-crafted question, pointing out that the candidate had suffered a vote of no confidence among local Conservatives, and drawing the parallel with Johnson’s loss of support on the benches behind him: “Does the prime minister hold any personal interest in seeing if the public will vote for a Tory that even his own side don’t think is up to it?”

Johnson brushed that aside, launching, as expected, into an attack on Starmer for not having the “gumption” to speak out against the rail strikes. But Starmer had an effective counter-attack in his second question, pointing out that Grant Shapps, the transport secretary on whose watch the strikes are taking place, had boasted in a TV interview at the weekend about his skill in predicting the number of Tory MPs who would vote against the prime minister in the confidence vote. (He had, in fact, disloyally over-estimated the size of the revolt, expecting 149 votes against rather than the 148 recorded.)

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