PMQs Verdict: Starmer attacks tax break for mates

It’s sleaze, sleaze, sleaze with the Conservatives as Starmer roasts Boris offer dodgy texts and dodgy deals.


Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the weekly question time debate in Parliament, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in London, Britain, April 14, 2021, in this screen grab taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the weekly question time debate in Parliament, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in London, Britain, April 14, 2021, in this screen grab taken from video. Reuters TV via REUTERS

LONDON (Labour Buzz) - It’s been an exciting week for the leaders with both getting down and dirty with the great unwashed. Boris had found out about the concept of association football, while Starmer had enjoyed his first pub fight. What would they find to talk about today?

Round one: Things that suck.

Starmer went straight in on the news that James Dyson, inventors of vacuum cleaners and novelty air heaters, had texted his friend Boris asking for a tax break. 

“What does he think is the right thing to do if he receives a text message from a billion-dollar conservative donor asking for tax breaks?” He asked. 

Johnson replied that he made ‘no apologies for shifting heaven and earth to secure ventilators for the people of this country’. 

Score: A predictable start. It all depends on what version of reality you choose to see. Starmer frames this as Johnson giving tax breaks to friends while Johnson says he was moving ‘heaven and earth’ to procure ventilators for the pandemic response. Which of these realities people believe will determine who wins the day. 

Round two: Taxing problems.

“Let’s be clear what these texts show.” Johnson, he said, had been lobbied for a change in the tax rules. The PM responded: ‘I’ll fix it.’

How many other people, Starmer wanted to know, has Boris given preferential treatment to? 

The answer from Johnson was less than convincing. There were a lot of ums and ahs as he rustled through papers seeking an answer. In the end, he went back to reminding the house of the crisis they had been facing.

Score: This felt like a point hitting home for Starmer. Johnson struggles to explain why bunging a tax break to a donor helps to fight a pandemic. 

Round three: The fix is in. 

The difference is clear, said Starmer. Thousands of businesses, he said, ‘stepped up’ but ‘they didn’t all have the chance to ask the PM to fix the tax system in return for doing so.’ 

He turned to Liberty Steel and the jobs on the line after the collapse of Greensill capital. ‘He has done nothing to help steelworkers,’ he said. Is it now one rule for those who have the prime minister’s phone number, one for everyone else?’

Score: Another bad round for Johnson as he desperately tried to find an excuse for giving a tax break to his friends. As always, Johnson attempted to frame attacks on his honesty as an attack against the pandemic response. Here at least it felt like even he knew he was on losing ground.

Round four. “Do something!”

Won’t give steelworkers the backing they need. Tax breaks for mates are the main currency of this government. If one of the three million self-employed people who have been excluded from govt support and faced bankruptcy. If they texted him, would he change the rules for them? 

Score: Johnson kept on digging. He claimed he had supported the self-employed as part of their wider support, he challenged Starmer to take back what he had said about the ventilator challenge. It was more of the same argument and it sounds worse every time he makes it. 

Round five: Sleaze and cronyism 

“I take it that’s a no,” Starmer laughed. There was, he said, an open door for those with the Prime Minister’s number but not the three million self-employed people who had been left without support. 

He framed it another way. If a nurse had the Prime Minister’s number, would they get the pay rise they deserve? 

Score: Another win for the Labour leader. In a rare show of emotion, Starmer seemed to be genuinely angry on behalf of NHS workers. “If the Prime Minister had spoken to those on the front line, he would know how insulted they were by the pay cut after everything they had put in,” he declared. “They didn’t get a text from the prime minister. They got a kick in the teeth.” 

Six: Sleaze and corruption 

In true lawyer fashion, Starmer concluded with a summing up of the government’s behaviour. It wasn’t a pretty picture. The Prime Minister is fixing tax breaks for his friends. Rishi Sunak is pushing civil servants to help Lex Greensill, the Health Secretary is meeting Greensill for drinks and David Cameron is texting anyone who will reply. 

“Every day,” he said, “there are new allegations about this Conservative government.”

It’s all operating on his watch. How on earth does he expect people to trust him to clean this mess up?  

Johnson was rattled and angry. He waffled about everything from ventilators to crime, punishment and football. 

PMQs Verdict 

This was a crushing win for Starmer. At the start, we said this would be about whose reality people believed. Once Starmer focused the discussion on tax, Johnson’s day fell in on itself. For Starmer, this was a continuation of the good work from last week. Labour continues to build a compelling narrative of sleaze and corruption in the Tory party and the Tories keep giving them the ammunition. 

For Starmer and Labour Tory sleaze, as has so often been the case, is the gift that keeps on giving.   

(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)

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