PMQs: Starmer puts pressure on Sunak over the latest Tory sleaze allegations

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Keir Starmer had plenty of ammunition heading into today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, and the Labour leader made a slightly zig-zagging series of contributions as he raised the various issues currently occupying Rishi Sunak’s government. Starmer started on housing and the announcement on Monday that the government was watering down its mandatory housebuilding targets. “His backbenchers threatened him, and as always, the blancmange Prime Minster wobbled,” he said, accusing Sunak of having done a “grubby deal with a handful of his MPs” and “sold out the aspirations of those who want to own their own home”. Sunak came back strongly, arguing that Starmer was engaging in “petty personality politics”, rather than focusing on the “substance” of the government’s proposals. He noted that, at the beginning of this week, the Labour leader had pledged more local control over decision-making, adding: “I know he flip flops, but even for him it’s pretty quick.”

Sunak told MPs: “We’re not gonna work with the Labour Party on housing. You know why? We’ll have a look at their record on housing.” The Prime Minister pointed to Labour’s performance in this area in London and Wales. But he could also have put Starmer in a difficult position over the national party’s own uncertain stance. Labour attracted considerable criticism last year for a campaign graphic opposing the government’s planning reforms that was captioned: “Do you want developers building on your green spaces without your say?” Labour slammed the government this week for scrapping its housing targets, but it was not that long ago that the opposition was also facing accusations of capitulating to the NIMBYs.

Starmer found stronger ground on the topic of Michelle Mone and the ongoing scandal over government PPE contracts. The Labour leader demanded to know how the Tory peer had allegedly ended up with nearly £30m of taxpayer money in her bank account. Sunak replied that he was “absolutely shocked” to read about the allegations – to outcry from the Labour benches. “He says he’s shocked? He was the Chancellor. He signed the checks,” Starmer shot back. The Prime Minister told MPs that it was “absolutely right” that Mone is no longer attending the House of Lords and “therefore no longer has the Conservative whip”, seemingly suggesting that he had personally taken action against the Tory peer. In reality, Mone announced via a spokesperson that she was taking a leave of absence from the Lords “to clear her name”. Keen to avoid the topic, the Prime Minister pivoted to discuss the rail strikes and criticised Labour’s stance on the unions.

Starmer faltered initially during today’s PMQs, and Sunak was visibly confident during discussion on housebuilding. But the Labour leader regained the upper hand when the focus turned to Michelle Mone, pointing out the ridiculousness of Sunak’s claim to be “absolutely shocked” at the allegations given the fact that he was Chancellor throughout the pandemic. The Prime Minister has a number of topics he tends to fall back on when he is feeling under pressure, including Labour’s relationship with the unions. One more question on Tory sleaze and he probably would have have brought up “the honourable member for Islington North”.

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