PMQs: Political point-scoring derails serious debate on male violence

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer went head-to-head this afternoon. But the Labour leader was careful to emphasise a constructive approach as he devoted all of his questions to violence against women and girls. He told MPs that the murder of Sarah Everard must be a “watershed moment” and argued that politicians must “work together” to tackle the issue. He called on Johnson to back Labour’s ten-point plan, a new law against street harassment and tougher sentences on stalking and rape. The PM agreed there was a need for change, but emphasised a “cultural and social change in attitudes” over specific changes to the law.

The pair clashed over the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, which passed its second reading as Labour voted against on Tuesday. The Prime Minister claimed it “did a lot to protect women and girls” and three times told the Labour leader that his party should have backed the proposed legislation. But, as Starmer told the PM, nothing in that bill would have increased the length of sentences for rape. “It did say a lot more about protecting statues, than it did about protecting women”, he told parliament. Starmer cited three recent rape cases, including two of children, and highlighted that none received a longer sentence than the ten-year penalty set out for damaging a memorial under the new government bill.

The Labour leader emphasised the urgent need for action on male violence, now, pointing out that 98.5% of reported rapes currently do not lead to prosecution. He highlighted that a victims law had been promised by the Tories in government and pledged by the party in its last three manifestos. We don’t need anymore reviews or consultations, Starmer argued, “we just need now to get on with it”. Playing to his strengths, he reminded MPs of his experience as the director of public prosecutions, adding: “I really don’t need lectures on how to enforce the criminal law.” And carefully stressing the need for constructive cross-party talks on such a serious issue, Starmer showed up the grossly inappropriate response from Johnson – which was as predictable as it was shameful.

The PM branded Labour as “crazy” for not voting for his police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. “It would have been a good thing if last night the whole House could have voted for tougher sentences for those who commit sexual and violent offences,” Johnson said. He could not avoid political point-scoring for half an hour. And this is the line that the Tories are going to roll-out in any discussion on violence against women and girls. The Conservatives will accuse Labour of being soft on crime while shoving aside any criticism of their bill, which does nothing to tackle the problem. Starmer had several constructive proposals. But the PM would have to abandon his point-scoring approach for meaningful change to be possible.

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