Prime minister’s questions: a shouty, jeery, very occasionally useful advert for British politics. Here’s what you need to know from today’s session in POLITICO’s weekly run-through.
Housekeeping note: After two weeks in a row of low-energy battles between deputies Oliver Dowden and Angela Rayner at PMQs, Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer returned to the fray today. Don’t get used to seeing them though — the Commons will rise tomorrow for a six-week recess.
What they sparred about: Politics is all about the pledges in 2023. On the day some actual progress was made towards one of Sunak’s core pledges to halve inflation, Starmer pressed the PM on another key promise: lowering NHS waiting lists, which are currently higher than they have ever been.
What Sunak wanted to talk about: The PM tried to blame long health service waits on strikes in the public sector — and said Starmer should “unglue himself from the fence” and decide if he supports them or not.
What Starmer wanted to talk about: As part of opposition efforts to attack the Tories’ economic credentials, the Labour leader argued the Tories haven’t even said how they’ll pay for their NHS workforce plan — and even referenced the Theresa May-era “magic money tree.”
Is it recess yet? Amid rows over the NHS workforce plan, Sunak had a genuinely good gag up his sleeve: “Everyone knows I’m a fan of doing maths to 18, but [Starmer] makes a very strong case for doing maths to 61.”
Unfortunately, the PM might have fluffed the gag — Starmer pointed out he’s actually 60.
The genuinely important bit: Sunak started the session with an apology on behalf of the government to LGBT Armed Forces veterans who were forced out their jobs under a pre-2000 ban.
Free merch alert: The SNP’s ambitious Westminster chief Stephen Flynn had his staff hand out mugs attacking Labour’s child poverty U-turn to journalists before PMQs. In a preview of what’s to come in next year’s general election, the Scottish nationalist (whose party is under threat from Labour in Scotland) then focused his questions entirely on Starmer and his newfound support for the government’s cap on social security. It led to a rare moment of agreement between Sunak and Starmer — as Sunak welcomed the Labour leader’s support. Expect the SNP to clip that one up for social media.
Side plot: Tory backbencher Mark Francois delivered a withering attack on fellow Tory and defense committee Chairman Tobias Ellwood, who has sparked fury by urging engagement with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan following a trip there.
Totally non-scientific scores on the door: Both men hit the lines they wanted to hit in a lemon-and-herb level of spicy pre-recess PMQs. Sunak in particular had some nice lines — as the Tories look to ramp up the attacks ahead of three tricky by-elections tomorrow.
Sunak 7/10 … Starmer 6/10 … The power of free political merchandise 100/10.