PMQs: “Treat the British people with a bit of respect,” Starmer tells Johnson

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

“Cut the nonsense and treat the British people with a bit of respect,” Keir Starmer told Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions today. The Labour leader’s questioning covered a wide range of topics, all with the overarching aim of proving that the government is out of touch with the British public. After Johnson attempted to outline how he and his Chancellor could still be seen as “tax-cutting Conservatives”, Starmer stressed that this Tory government had introduced 15 tax rises, resulting in the highest tax burden in decades. He demanded to know: “Is that cutting taxes or raising taxes?”

Johnson accused “Captain Hindsight” of trying to “obliterate the biggest pandemic for the last century from his memory”. He claimed that his government was reducing taxes wherever it could and argued that Labour was “all in favour” of tax rises – apart from the health and social care levy, implying that the opposition were resisting efforts to support the NHS recovery after the pandemic. Alluding to the ongoing ‘partygate’ investigation, Starmer quipped: “I can only hope that his police questionnaire was a bit more convincing than that.”

The Labour leader highlighted that while people are “counting every penny, the Prime Minister is hitting them with higher taxes”, but that in 2024 – “when there just so happens to be a general election” – they will make a small tax cut. “That’s not taking difficult decisions,” Starmer said. “It’s putting the Tory re-election campaign over and above helping people pay their bills.” Johnson claimed the opposition party “cannot be trusted” on the economy, but the Labour leader responded emphatically that the Tories “always” make working people pay and again made the case for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies – a policy shown to be popular. To a raucous reception from the Labour benches, he told MPs: “They’re the party of excess oil and gas profits. We’re the party of working people.”

Turning his focus to partygate, Starmer noted that the Met Police has issued 20 initial fines to people working in Downing Street. Although the Prime Minister had repeatedly told parliament that no lockdown rules had been broken, it is now clear there was “widespread criminality”. Given the ministerial code rules on misleading parliament (normally a resigning offence), the Labour leader asked: “Why is he still here?”. Starmer told parliament that Johnson thinks it is “one rule for him and another rule for everyone else” and asked: “When is he going to stop taking the British public for fools?”.

Starmer painted the Tories as uncaring and oblivious to the struggles of the British public today. But he also established a key separation between the government and the opposition: respect, which is one of the central tenets of Starmer’s offer to voters, and a theme that ran throughout his questioning. He argued that the government’s approach to taxes, the cost of living and partygate is not just wrong in and of itself, but also unacceptable because of what it says to the British public: we are smarter than you, and we can get away with anything we want.

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