PMQs scorecard: Rishi Sunak struggles to deflect questions over Tory donor’s “racist” comments

Prime minister’s questions: a shouty, jeery, very occasionally useful advert for British politics. Here’s what you need to know from the latest session in POLITICO’s weekly run-through.

What they sparred about: No prizes for guessing, after Rishi Sunak’s week was completely upended by allegations in the Guardian that his party’s biggest donor had said the Labour MP Diane Abbott should be “shot” — among various other vile things. After a long delay and much equivocation, the government eventually accepted Tuesday night that the comments were “racist”. But questions remained for Sunak.

That’s where Keir comes in: “Is the PM proud to be bankrolled by someone using racist and sexist language?” Labour’s Keir Starmer asked pointedly at PMQs. That set the tone for a lengthy back-and-forth, where Sunak deflected questions about handing back the £10 million Frank Hester gave his party by pointing to the apparent “double standards” in Labour having a deputy leader who called Conservatives “scum”. Not really the same though, is it?

The Starmer attack line: “He’s scared of his party. I’ve changed my party.”

The Sunak defense: “[Hester] apologized, his remorse should be accepted.” Let’s see if that line holds any longer than the last one.

Particularly since While Hester apologized, he did not accept that his comments about Abbott — which included the line “you just want to hate all black women because she’s there” — were racist or sexist. He characterized the comments as “rude” only.

The Tory party’s biggest donor Frank Hester said the Labour MP Diane Abbott should be “shot” | Hollie Adams/Getty Images

On to the other stuff: Starmer moved on to the thing he really wants to focus on: trying to make Sunak look like lettuce-hating ex-PM Liz Truss. Taking aim at the government’s long-term ambition to scrap National Insurance, he suggested the “unfunded tax cut” is Sunak’s equivalent of Truss’ disastrous mini-budget. Which is a bit of a stretch, but still.

The inevitable dad joke: “All we need now is an especially hardy lettuce and it could be 2022,” Starmer spluttered out. Bah-dum-tish.

Taking a stray hit: Helpful question of the day award goes to veteran Tory backbencher Edward Leigh. He asked Sunak if he reckons there’s only one political party which has the will to block illegal migration — a shot at both Labour and the right-wing Reform UK, which welcomed Tory defector Lee Anderson into its ranks this week.

Speaking of which: Anderson took his new seat on the opposition benches for PMQs right next to … the left-wing firebrand George Galloway. Someone give these lads a podcast, please.

Least helpful Tory backbencher of the day: Brexit wars veteran Mark Francois compared Sunak to WWII appeaser Neville Chamberlain over his failure to increase defense spending.

Not called: The subject of Hester’s comments, Diane Abbott, was not called to speak — despite trying to get a question.

Totally unscientific scores on the door: Given the task of defending the virtually indefensible — not for the first time — Sunak valiantly tried to deflect, without much success.

Rishi Sunak 4/10 … Keir Starmer 6/10 … The Liz Truss lettuce’s continuing relevance, two years on 100/10.


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