Rishi Sunak mustn’t slip into Boris Johnson’s bad habits. So said Sir Stephen Timms (Lab, East Ham), and pointed out that the Prime Minister had last week claimed there are record numbers of people in work, when the actual figures show 122,792 fewer people in work.
Too late! Sunak has already slipped into Johnson’s bad habits, or to put it another way, developed the resilience, indistinguishable from shamelessness, which all Prime Ministers require when responding to Commons questions.
After observing that the official record has already been corrected, Sunak referred in a jaunty tone to “near-record numbers of people in work”.
Sir Keir Starmer, sounding more than ever like a maths teacher, posed various problems for Sunak, including the length of time it would take “the average person to save £9,000” for a deposit on a mortgage, “or to put it in terms the PM will understand, roughly the annual bill to heat his swimming pool.”
Sunak once again refused to be embarrassed, asserted that the Conservatives have a good record on building houses, and claimed Starmer “wants to concrete over the green belt”.
In his final question, Starmer unexpectedly reverted to the Coronation, and invited the Prime Minister to join him in expressing various pious opinions about it.
Sunak refused to fall for this blatant attempt to stop him being political and proceeded to urge people to vote Conservative in the local elections.
Stephen Flynn, for the Scots Nats, with admirable brevity went for Starmer:
“In 2010, David Cameron convinced Nick Clegg to drop his pledge on university tuition fees. Does the Prime Minister intend to take the credit for convincing the leader of the Labour Party to do likewise?”
The Tories enjoyed that. Neither they nor their leader look on the brink of collapse: one might almost have thought they look forward to surpassing low expectations in tomorrow’s elections.
For in the words of Sunak’s great predecessor, Benjamin Disraeli, “A majority is always better than the best repartee.”