Sir Keir Starmer is a difficult man to advise. He rejected this morning’s suggestion from Paul Goodman, editor of ConHome, that he begin his speech in today’s debate with the words:
“I was going to explain why we have no confidence in the Government, Mr Speaker. But I’ve no need to – since it’s clear that its Ministers have no confidence in their colleagues, and this Government has no confidence in itself.”
This theme would have been illustrated by quoting the attacks made on each other by the Tory leadership candidates on live TV on Sunday evening.
But no. Sir Keir decided to stick with what he knows. He attacked Boris Johnson:
“This is not the summer for Downing Street to be occupied by a vengeful squatter, mired in scandal.”
It was curious to see the Labour Leader concentrating his fire on a Prime Minister who is already on the way out, while ignoring the in-fighting between the various candidates to succeed him.
There were Labour people who felt an overwhelming urge, many years after the fall of Margaret Thatcher, to demonstrate to their own complete satisfaction that she was a bad person.
No hint of magnanimity was allowed to mar these bitter denunciations. Nor did it occur to those wanted to dig Thatcher up and throw stones at her that it might have been more telling, as well as more generous, to point out what a tremendous figure she was compared to those who came after her.
Perhaps for years to come we shall perhaps hear Sir Keir demonstrating that Johnson is a bad person.
But if the Leader of the Opposition does play things that way, he will sound even more than he usually does that he is saying what he himself finds comfortable.
Johnson in his speech offered a compilation album of his greatest hits, declared that “this Government is undefeated at the polls”, and insisted “we will find a new leader and we will coalesce in loyalty round him or her”.
On the front bench, he was supported by Liz Truss, Nadine Dorries, Ben Wallace, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Alister Jack among others.
From the back benches, Michael Fabricant suggested that “our party is making the same mistake that the Labour Party made when it knifed Tony Blair”.
“Already they ask themselves what they have done,” Sir Keir might have taunted them. That would have made for uncomfortable listening.