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Keir’s Killer Questions Barely Bruise Tiny Tory Titan

It’s true that next month the days will be getting shorter but even so, it’s early for a panto season. Waiting for PMQs to start, Labour gave Tory MPs coming onto the floor of the House a rising whoaahhhhh! until they broke in the direction of the Government benches. After Elphicke and Poulter, would they/wouldn’t they come and join the Labour dance? Neither of those two trans Members, now identifying as socialists, were present. And probably never will be. They must now ring a silver bell in front of them as they wander the earth.

In a rare display of cross-party whippery, Alan Campbell and Simon Hart came onto the Floor of the House together and took their places. Quite what that meant is lost in the dark sodality of chief whips. Anyway, the two principal boys came in and it was showtime.

Keir Starmer, in energetic form, laughed at the PM’s “seventh relaunch in 18 months” as “Mr Security” and followed by “the Minister for Commonsense announcing a crackdown of that gravest of threats: colourful lanyards” (happy Labour laughter).

Rishi came back snappily with the importance of civil service impartiality, and that LOTO “might want to ask his chief of staff about that” (happy Tory laughter).

Your sketchwriter has noted previously that Keir’s reputation in court was of appealing more to the judge than the jury. Here he went for the jury with what seemed a promising and then powerful, and finally perplexing, line of questioning.

The prison service is in chaos. Will letting out prisoners 70 days earlier “make the country more secure?

Rishi had an answer to that, which you can imagine.

Keir then slightly derailed his line of argument fluffing his line about “tech-bro” (see Guido below), causing an outpouring of cruel delight from the Conservative benches. Rishi turned it to good effect, extemporising a response finishing with James Watt and “steam-bro”.

Starmer, visibly shaken by the jeering, struggled to get his show back on the rails. He went forensic. It worked. He gained traction. He asked about the candidates for early release: “How many? Where are they? What crimes have they committed?” And, what was to be his attack point – he asked for a guarantee that none of them would be classified as “high-risk”. He asked that twice.

The PM had an answer for it both times, I forget exactly what, but Keir’s fourth question produced his concluding and he hoped conclusive argument. Members of the jury leaned forward. He quoted from a report on Lewes prison. Page 5. At-risk prisoners released. Page 46. A high-risk prisoner had his release date brought forward.

Yikes. An official report saying exactly what the PM had suggested couldn’t happen. Stalkers. Domestic abusers released early. And those considered a risk to children. “Does that sound like the work of someone making the country more secure?”

Keir had been going well, but alas, this caused a collapse into confusion of the jury’s concentration. Stalkers, domestic abusers and child molesters – curse them – really aren’t a matter of national security. The PM had been directing attention towards the international catastrophe of World War Three and Keir was responding with Baby Reindeer.

The PM left on a helpful exit line – Labour having released 80,000 prisoners, 16,000 of them violent.

Whether or not this was true, it was the last word and Keir’s jury returned a verdict of Not Proven.

Quite a result, considering the evidence against the Government (which will endure to be evidence against the next Government in five years’ time).

SNP leader Stephen Flynn displayed for the House the bruise on his injured national dignity, having been compared by the PM to “despotic regimes” in North Korea, Russia and China. So determined to take offence are these nationalists they can’t take a compliment in good part.

In a question from Tory James Morris we foresaw the death of Net Zero as a political project. Interestingly, it was related to the early release scheme that Keir had led on.

Morris took up the cause of his residents complaining about the erection of telegraph poles in their area designed to “upgrade their broadband” service. They were fighting it, determined to prevent it, wanted the permitted development regulations to be adjusted to make it impossible to put the poles up.

If local residents are agitating about a few telegraph poles, imagine the civil war that 80,000 new electricity pylons is going to spark. The electrification of the UK demands this heroic expansion of the grid in the next five years. Every rural constituency will be putting up an army of resistance that will make the fracking debacle look like street theatre.

It’s the same local opposition that has prevented the building of prisons incidentally, requiring the release of those second-order criminals.

That’ll be something for Keir to deal within the years to come. We are all fortunate that he’s such a flexible politician.

Labour’s Richard Burgon looks like a sort of second row forward from the 1950s, a sort of pit pony. Wikipedia says he has an English degree from Cambridge. And truth be told, his question showed how well a little rhetoric works in the Commons. He referred to 30,000 deaths in Gaza, to the killing of British aid workers, to “the all-out assault on Rafah with all the death and destruction that entails” – and each of these he added the coda “not enough to end arms sales to Israel” to finish with the question “What would be enough?”

Rishi’s answer (that the Government doesn’t actually sell arms to Israel) was a little technical, but solid, compared with the way other leaders talk about it.

Rosena Allin-Khan took up the same theme, that “Israel attacked hospitals,” killed “thousands upon thousands” and “trampled over international humanitarian law”, to finish with “No other country would be allowed to act with such impunity.”

That’s not quite the case, of course. By the standards of the Middle East, Israel’s prosecution of the war is such that CNN could, if they were so minded, describe it “mostly peaceful”.

So, the answer to Dr A-K’s concluding question, “Why does he continue to act as a bystander to such horror?” might be found in a paraphrase of I Samuel 18:7, “Israel has killed its thousands, but Islam its tens of thousands.” Although, actually, Islamic war deaths come in millions, and inflicted with such international impunity most of us have no idea they’ve happened.

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