PMQs scorecard: Sunak and Starmer shout about pensions to woo the gray vote

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: Oldies and imaginary tax cuts. Rishi Sunak’s ambition to eventually scrap national insurance — and the potential toll it’ll take on people’s pensions — took center stage in the final PMQs before the local elections.

Backdrop: Labour wants to park its tanks on Tory lawns in the locals and win over the “silver wall” of old-timers who traditionally back Sunak’s party. So Starmer probed the PM on how his big aspiration (still miles off being policy) would actually be funded. “In the two weeks since we last met at this despatch box, has the prime minister managed to find the money for his completely unfunded £46 billion promise to scrap national insurance?”

Hitting back: “I know that economics is not his strong point,” Sunak shot back. He had some figures from the well-respected Institute for Fiscal Studies up his sleeve, arguing that “the link between national insurance and public services funding is illusory.”

Once more with feeling: Starmer had a second go, arguing that “the value of the state pension would almost halve” if national insurance was scrapped. Would Sunak, he asked, “finally rule out cutting their state pension to fulfill the enormous black hole in his spending plans?”

Blast from the past: Sunak insisted the state pension won’t be cut, and went for a callback to the New Labour years. “It’s Labour that always hits pensioners hard,” he crowed.

Tears for fears: Starmer rounded off his questions by asking Sunak how he felt going into an election saying “vote Tory, risk your pension.” The prime minister was having none of it, praying Tory mayors and slamming Labour’s Sadiq Khan: “From West Midlands to Teesside to London. There is only one choice: vote Conservative.” Man backs self shock!

Not forgetting: New Labour MP Dan Poulter, who defected from the Tories last weekend, was proudly sat on the opposition benches. Starmer said Poulter had concluded it was “time for change.” Sunak took a jibe at Poulter’s supposed lack of attendance in the Commons, saying he was “glad to actually see the honorable gentleman.”

Helpful interventions of the week: Deputy Tory Chair Jonathan Gullis highlighted that a failed asylum seeker has finally been deported to Rwanda … Tory loyalist Lisa Cameron praised the government’s boost to defense spending … and Tory MP Bill Wiggin thanked Sunak for canceling High Speed Rail to fund local improvements. It’s almost like there’s an election on.

Totally unscientific scores on the doors: Starmer used blunt force and wouldn’t stop chucking a big £46 billion figure around to spook pensioners. Sunak didn’t really pull any punches and got in some pre-scripted lines about voting Tory. But nobody really learned anything. Sunak gets 5/10 Starmer 6/10 … And voters desperate to get polling day over and done with deserve 100/10 points.