PMQs: Are we getting a plan to combat the cost of living, or to save Johnson?

Katie Neame
© Nazar Gonchar/

“I want to focus on the cost of living,” Keir Starmer told MPs at the start of today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, though he said he looked forward to discussing the newly released Sue Gray report later this afternoon. The Labour leader stressed the impact of the government’s continued resistance to a windfall tax, saying that “hundreds of millions of pounds have been added” to energy bills since last week’s session. “It sounds like he’s finally seen sense,” Starmer said, referring to reports this week. “And the inevitable U-turn may finally have arrived.”

Recounting how the government has repeatedly rejected his party’s call for a levy, the Labour leader asked: “What is it about the Sue Gray report that first attracted him to a U-turn this week?” The ‘dead cat’ accusation – that the new package of cost-of-living support expected to be announced this week is a distraction from Gray’s report – is a strong line of attack. It was reported yesterday that the Treasury is finalising plans for a windfall tax, despite the idea having been deemed “un-Conservative” by senior Tory officials as recently as last Thursday. Johnson had no real response to Starmer’s question, choosing to repeat his line about Labour’s “lust” for new taxes being “no surprise”.

The Prime Minister remained vague on what plans the government might produce to help people with the cost of living, saying only that “we’re going to do more” and that ministers would “put our arms around the people of this country”. He accused Starmer of taking pleasure in “running this country down” and argued that the government is handling the economy well – a comment prompting Starmer to label Johnson “delusional”. “Whilst he’s distracted trying to save his own job, the country has been counting the cost,” the Labour leader argued. “He was the last person to spot the cost-of-living crisis.”

Starmer gathered momentum as he accused Johnson of opportunism over the timing of a U-turn this week. But the Labour leader did not make enough of the point. That the Prime Minister has chosen this week of all weeks to bring forward further cost-of-living support was enough evidence for Starmer to demonstrate how little Johnson cares about the everyday struggles of the British people. Starmer should have stuck to his guns and centred the session on this theme.

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