The first Prime Minister’s Questions of the new parliamentary session bore a striking resemblance to the final one of the last. Keir Starmer reiterated that Boris Johnson is “on the side of excess profits for oil and gas companies” while Labour is “on the side of working people”. Conservatives MPs voted down Labour’s amendment to the Queen’s Speech yesterday, which called for a windfall tax on the bumper profits of those companies. But, picking up on the indecision towards the measure within the cabinet and wider Tory Party, the Labour leader said: “One minute they’re ruling it in, the next they’re ruling it out. When will he stop the Hokey Cokey and just back Labour’s plan for a windfall tax to cut household bills?”
British household energy bills are rising by £53m each day, Starmer highlighted, and oil and gas companies are seeing daily unexpected profits of £32m. Meanwhile the Prime Minister “dithers”, he told MPs, adding: “Every single day he delays, his inevitable U-turn – he’s going to do it – he’s choosing to let people struggle when they don’t need to.” He accused Johnson of having “his head in the sand in the middle of an economic crisis”, promising repeatedly that there is “more help coming” but failing to deliver. “The plan is to do nothing,” Starmer concluded. The Prime Minister maintained an ambiguous stance on a windfall tax: “We will look at all the measures that we need to take to get people through to the other side.” He repeated tired arguments about Labour’s record on taxation – “nothing could be more transparent from this exchange than their lust to raise taxes” – and tried to blame high energy prices on previous Labour governments’ policy on nuclear energy.
Starmer delivered his final contribution this afternoon to an unusually quiet Commons. He told MPs about Phoenix Halliwell whose rare kidney condition means he has to do dialysis from home five days a week. His family had to turn their central heating off during the winter and Phoenix had to skip meals to make ends meet but their energy bill has still doubled. “Phoenix says he feels like he is being priced out of existence,” Starmer said. “And it’s not just him. Millions of our disabled, elderly and vulnerable neighbours are at the sharp end of this crisis. They simply can’t afford to live with dignity.”
The Labour leader did not try to match Johnson’s bluster and bombast today, but carefully and convincingly set out the case that Tory indecision is deepening the cost-of-living crisis and failing people who are desperately in need of support. Closing with Phoenix’s powerful story, Starmer gave a human face to the crisis to represent the millions of individuals struggling. “The cost of indecision is enormous,” he stressed. “People across the country need action now.” Johnson’s defence, that the government must keep taxes low for businesses reaping massive profits, will provide little comfort to those individuals.