With Liz Truss’ premiership teetering on the brink, every PMQs has become a must-watch event and today’s was no different.
It was the first time the Prime Minister had answered questions in the commons after her humiliating mini budget U-turn under Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. Truss traded barbs with Sir Keir Starmer, opposition parties and even some of her own MPs in an illuminating affair, even if her comments aren’t likely to make tomorrow’s front pages.
Truss committed to maintaining the pension triple lock, despite yesterday her spokesperson saying it was up for review, and rolled out a Tory attack line, that Labour supported the rail strikes. However, unusually, she faced some of the toughest questions from her own backbenchers, who held her to account on international aid, social care and benefits.
Here are our five main takeaways from another blockbuster PMQs - including our verdict on who came out on top.
1. Pension triple lock - mixed messages
Following a question from SNP leader Ian Blackford, Liz Truss said she was committed to the pension triple lock - which effectively ensures payments stay in line with inflation. This on it’s own wouldn’t have been surprising as this was a Conservative manifesto commitment, however for the previous 24 hours her government had been briefing that it was under review.
In his Commons statement on Monday, Jeremy Hunt had said that nothing was off the table to plug the black hole in the Treasury’s finances, and yesterday the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said the policy was up for “review”. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly did the morning media round today preaching the same thing, only for Truss to undermine all of this in PMQs. It appears her communications strategy is getting confused, to say the least.
2. Won’t commit to raising benefits in line with inflation
While Truss was quick - at PMQs - to make clear she backed the pension triple lock, she wasn’t as forthcoming about raising benefits in line with inflation. After speaking powerfully about the care that was required for his disabled son, Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey asked if Truss would raise the carers’ allowance in line with inflation. The Prime Minister made no specific commitment, and instead said that her “government would always protect the most vulnerable”.
Later Tory MP John Baron encouraged “the Prime Minister to ensure that we retain compassion in politics in these decisions, including maintaining the link between benefits and inflation, will she do that?” Again Truss failed to make a firm commitment, saying: “We will always work to protect the most vulnerable, and that is what we did with the energy price guarantee.
3. Sir Keir Starmer misses out
Last week, the Labour leader cleverly skewered the Prime Minister with a question about public spending - which led to Truss making promises she couldn’t keep. However after the Tory leader’s week from hell, which saw all her lose all political authority, Starmer struggled to land a knock out blow. At the start he rushed through his questions making jokes about Truss being gone by Christmas, which she was easily able to deflect.
Starmer’s best moment was when he listed all of the government’s U-turns, with Labour MPs shouting “gone” after every one. He finished by saying: “Economic credibility – gone. And her supposed best friend the former Chancellor, he’s gone as well. They’re all gone. So why is she still here?” Truss hit back saying she was a “fighter not a quitter”.
This attack line from the Labour leader was effective, however his team will be wondering if he could have done better given the crisis engulfing Number 10.
4. Barbed questions from Tory backbenchers
As well as taking questions from the party leaders, at PMQs the Prime Minister is quizzed by backbench MPs, from her own part as well as the opposition. Usually Conservative members will their leader home runs to knock out of the park, be it praising the government’s economic record or crediting the PM for help with a constituency issue.
However today, Conservative MPs asked her difficult, probing questions, taking advantage of the PM’s weakness. Andrew Mitchell quizzed Truss about international aid, while former minister Helen Whately asked about social care funding. And this was before John Baron’s question about uprating benefits. While Starmer’s questions were obvious, it is Tory MPs who can dethrone Truss and judging by their mood that could happen soon.
5. Can we trust anything Liz Truss says?
Liz Truss’ big policy announcement this PMQs was around the pensions triple lock, where she said she was committed to bringing it back. In a way, it doesn’t actually matter that much what the Prime Minister promises, but whether voters believe her. She’s already had to row back on almost every tax cut in the mini budget, and after last week taunting Labour for only having a six-month energy bill freeze - this week it’s become her policy.
The signs are that voters have turned on Truss and she will struggle to win them back. A poll today gave her a disapproval rating of 77%, while a Redfield & Wilton poll put Labout 36 points ahead of the Conservatives, the largest poll lead by any party since 1997. Truss can promise what she wants, but if voters don’t believe she’ll deliver what’s the point?
Despite looking like her days in No10 are numbered, Liz Truss will be fairly happy with how this PMQs went - especially against Sir Keir Starmer. The Labour leader failed to land a clear blow and rushed through his questions, helping the embattled Prime Minister. In footballing terms, this would probably have been a goalless draw.