PMQs – snap verdict
Traditionally crime has been a Tory issue. But it is now one where Labour has a narrow lead over the Conservatives as the party that would handle it best, and what’s surprising is not that Keir Starmer raised it today, but that he does not do so more often. Particularly because of his record as a former DPP, it feels like easy territory for him.
What was new was Starmer’s decision to combine an attack on crime with the suggestion that Rishi Sunak is out of touch and Londoncentric, and that he should “get out of Westminster” more. This a line that we hear more usually when the Conservatives are deploying it against Starmer, and to his credit Sunak retaliated effectively, pointing out that his north Yorkshire constituency is a lot further from Westminster than Starmer’s north London one.
Tory MPs loved this, but in the wider public arena it is hard to see Sunak winning an “in touch, man of the people” contest with Starmer. He might have a house in Yorkshire, but he is not a northerner, does not sound like one, and many people now know that his family is richer than the king’s. Starmer does not easily win this contest either; his upbringing was a lot less privileged than Sunak’s, but because he is a knight and a barrister, a lot of people assume he is posh. But Starmer can at least neutralise this as a Tory attack line, and that is what he was doing today.
Sunak’s MPs also enjoyed his riposte about Sue Gray. It worked in the chamber, but this is the ultimate “inside the beltway” argument that does not resonate more widely.
To win the crime argument, the Tories normally rely on attacking Labour for voting against tougher sentences. In the past that might have worked. But with prosecution and conviction rates for some crimes now so low, this response does not carry much force anymore and that showed when Sunak tried it today. As Starmer explained, if you want someone to serve a long jail sentence, you have to catch them first.
Joe Pike from Sky News says government sources predict as many as 40 Tory MPs might vote against the Northern Ireland protocol deal today.
The government’s current working majority is 66, which means that any rebellion involving 34 or more Tory MPs voting against indicates that No 10 no longer has a functioning majority on this issue, and is reliant on the opposition.
Sunak says since 2010 there are 2 million fewer people living in poverty.
(He is probably referring to absolute poverty, a figure tied to the relative poverty threshold when the government came to power. Because of inflation, over time absolute poverty almost always falls.)
Sir Jeremy Wright (Con) asks about a constituent who went into a coma after a Covid injection. He says the family continue to believe in vaccines, but want compensation improved for the very tiny minority of people who have a reaction after one.
Sunak says cases like this are extremely rare. One-off payments are available, he says. That does not prevent people seeking compensation. Vaccine compensations schemes are being reformed, he says.
Jerome Mayhew (Con) says up to one million people living outside London will be affected by the extension of Ulez. That is unfair, he says.
Sunak says that is right. And he says the Labour government in Wales also wants to extend road pricing.
Graham Stringer (Lab) claims science was not followed during Covid, as the Telegraph’s lockdown files have revealed. (That is now what everyone concluded from their reports.) He calls for a short-term inquiry to address this.
Sunak says the Covid inquiry is already under way. It is independent, he says.
Bob Seely (Con) says the Isle of Wight, which he represents, is the only significant island in the UK without a fixed link (a bridge to the mainland) that does not get extra money to help fund services.
Sunak says he spent many happy family holidays on the island as a child. The island is getting an extra £1m to recognise its special circumstances, he says.
As my colleague Pippar Crerar points out, in his final answer to Keir Starmer, rattling off his government’s agenda, Rishi Sunak said he was halving inflation – on the day figures came out saying it is going up.
Stephen Flynn, the SNP leader at Westminster, starts with a tribute to PC Keith Palmer.
What worries the PM most about Brexit, the 4% hit to UK productivity, or three former Tory leaders voting against him this afternoon?
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker, says it is two.
(Hoyle seems to be thinking of former Tory PMs. Theresa May is not voting against, but Iain Duncan Smith reportedly is.)
Sunak says the SNP is in a mess.
Flynn says people are facing the biggest fall in living standards since the war.
Sunak says the government is helping people with energy bills.
Starmer says the only criminal investigation Sunak has been involved in is the one that found him guilty of breaking the law. He says he was a prosecutor. He prosecuted countless rapists, and he supports tough sentences, but you have to catch them first. After 13 years of Tory government, they have done nothing on standards, community policing has been weakened, and burglars and rapists walk the street with impunity.
Sunak says he has apologised for the fine. But he says the Sue Gray report confirmed that he had no knowledge of the meeting. But Sunak says he does not need to tell Starmer that; Starmer has probably spoken to Gray more than he has.
Sunak says he is getting on with his agenda.
Starmer says Sunak is out of touch. He needs “to get out of Westminster, get out of Kensington – and I don’t mean to Malibu” and see what reaction he gets. The Tories should be ashamed of their record, he says. In the BBC case he mentioned, a cul-de-sac has seen 10 burglaries in 18 months, but only one resulted in a charge.
Sunak says north Yorkshire is a lot further away than north London.
That goes down well with Tory MPs.
He claims crime has gone down since the Tories came into power. Labour has just voted against tougher sentences for criminals. It is the same old Labour, “soft on crime, soft on criminals”.
Starmer says people are fed up with a government that never takes responsiblity. Crime is out of control and people are paying the price. He quotes a case highlighted by the BBC where no one was charged for attacking a woman with a baseball bat. What is the charge rate for theft and burglary?
Sunak says neighbourhood crime is down by 29% since 2019. The government is on target to double the number of rape cases reaching court.
And he says the government has changed the law to ensure rapists spend more time in prison. But the shadow policing minister said prison does not prevent crime.
Starmer says what Sunak refers to is not mandatory. How can it be right to have different standards for difference forces? He accuses the government of negligence. Rape charges are at 1.6%. There should be proper rape units in every force, as Labour recommends, he says. Why won’t the government back that?
Sunak says Louise Casey also says primary responsibility for the Met rests with the mayor of London. Casey said that relationship was dysfunctional. The mayor should play his part. Sunak says the government has published a rape review action plan. Evidence collecting has improved, and funding for victim services have quadrupled.
Starmer says he will take it from that that Sunak does accept the report in full. Will the government back Labour’s plans for proper national vetting?
Sunak says the government is already taking action to back the proposals in the Casey report. He met Casey two months ago. He says the national code for vetting is being updated. Within weeks, HM’s inspectorate will report back on the vetting procedures of all forces.
Keir Starmer says today is the sixth anniversary of the Westminster terrorist attack, and the death of PC Keith Palmer, killed defending the Commons. He says brave police officers in the Met are being let down. He says he accepts Louise Casey’s recommendations in full. Does the PM?
Sunak says he was “appalled” to read the report. The government is taking steps to ensure culture, standards and behaviour improve. The Met must work hard to regain people’s trust.
Jo Gideon (Con) asks Sunak to thank Stoke council for supporting her call for a postbox to heaven in a local cemetery, before the national day of reflection. And will he back her call for action to promote button battery safety?
Sunak says the government is aware of the danger posed by button batteries.
Rishi Sunak starts with the usual spiel about having meetings this morning with colleagues, and futher meetings later.