PMQs: Sir Keir Starmer sticks to safe ground on cost of living crisis with Labour Israel row rumbling on

Labour denied that Sir Keir Starmer had dodged questions about Israel due to the row enveloping his party.

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After a break in hostilities last week, Prime Minister’s Questions returned with interest as Sir Keir Starmer told Rishi Sunak that voters wanted to tell the government to “eff off”.

The Labour leader was referring to a mock flowchart shared on Facebook by the Tories’ Tamworth candidate Andrew Cooper that suggested those who are out of work, pay for “TV Sky/BT/etc”, or “have a phone contract + £30” should “f*** off” rather than seek help.

And Starmer got back to a familiar script that has been working well for him over the past year - the cost of living crisis. He started by bringing up Cooper’s Facebook post, asking Sunak why the Tamworth candidate thought that “throwing expletives at struggling families was his government’s official position?”

The Labour leader then raised the case of a mother and two children who were being kicked out of their home after eight years by a no-fault eviction. Earlier this week, the government indefinitely delayed the long-promised ban of no-fault evictions.

And Starmer got in a jibe about Liz Truss in, saying that the Tories who “crashed the economy … are still standing as his candidates and still setting his policy”. This was in reference to the Truss policy of scrapping the cap on bankers’ bonuses - which the government announced it would push through.

Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs. Credit: UK Parliament/Maria UngerSir Keir Starmer at PMQs. Credit: UK Parliament/Maria Unger
Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs. Credit: UK Parliament/Maria Unger

From the House of Commons’ press gallery, I thought Sunak appeared fairly calm and confident after what must have been a tough week following the by-elections. He even cracked a joke about Nadine Dorries: “I suspect the new member for Mid Beds may actually support me a bit more than the last one.”

As I’ve written about before, the cost of living crisis is tough ground for Sunak. During his conference speech he hardly brought it up - instead focusing on culture wars. And again today at PMQs he merely listed various government interventions like he was reading off a bingo card. However with inflation still relatively high and energy bills creeping up, the British public can’t relate to this.

The helicopter-loving PM is still in danger of appearing like an out of touch millionaire, and this was something Starmer brought up directly. “He keeps boasting about how great things are, the voters keep telling him he’s got it wrong,” Starmer said.

That statement really gets to the heart of the matter. No matter how much Sunak says things are great, no one believes him - and the polls show this. Three-quarters of Britons think the government is handling the economy badly, according to YouGov, and it’s still the most important issue facing the country for more than half of voters.

Starmer noticeably avoided questions on Israel - perhaps wary of provoking the ire of certain parts of his own party. This afternoon he held a crisis meeting with around a dozen Labour MPs who are angry over the party’s stance on Gaza. I’ve also heard rumours that two Shadow Cabinet ministers could be prepared to quit.

After PMQs, Starmer’s spokesperson denied he had deliberately dodged questions on Israel: “We have seen this being debated in Parliament, with two statements and a full set of PMQs last week. We have been very clear and consistent in setting out our views on this and he chose to raise alternative questions at PMQs today.”

Starmer will want to keep his focus on the cost of living crisis, as the party’s Israel row is showing no signs of going away.

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