PMQs verdict: Starmer rails against Sunak’s record on Raac in high-stakes session

“Can I welcome all people again”, started Speaker Lindsay Hoyle as MPs returned to the cauldron of the commons prepared for the time period’s first spherical of jousting at Prime Minister’s Questions.

With Westminster all a quiver over issues about Raac concrete in faculties and public buildings, it was in fact Rishi Sunak, slightly than Keir Starmer, who had extra purpose to concern the return to despatch field duties. 

Thus the prime minister could have been grateful for the loosener from London MP Louie French (Outdated Bexley and Sidcup, Con) who bought proceedings underway with a query on ULEZ.

Sunak used the chance to accuse the Labour chief of “permitting” London Mayor Sadiq Khan to pursue with the ULEZ enlargement: “We concentrate on serving to folks with the price of residing, all he does is punish them”, he added. Constitutionally questionable, however politically in all probability fairly potent. 


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Starmer had no want to interact on the setting, in fact. He got here armed with six questions on crumbling concrete in faculties. 

The Labour chief had a fairly clear job at the moment: use the Raac scandal to press his case that the Conservatives have wasted the final 13 years of presidency. Starmer has lengthy argued Britain is crumbling beneath the Conservatives. With Raac, his message is now not merely metaphoric. 

Maybe extra pertinently nonetheless, Starmer’s “13 years of Tory authorities” shtick generally slides off Sunak — in any case, he has solely been an MP since 2015 and a minister since 2018. 

However on Raac, the chancellor is accused of taking part in an intimate position within the lack of funding which Labour argues instantly precipitated the disaster. The stakes had been therefore excessive for Starmer, too: crumbling concrete presents him a chance to tie Sunak indelibly to his occasion’s perceived failings. 

Sunak, due to this fact, confronted an uphill battle. It was his process to speak to the general public — in addition to his MPs — that the federal government has gripped the Raac concern. After all, he was armed with the useful announcement, printed simply moments earlier than PMQs, that the listing of colleges in England affected is now out there for involved dad and mom. 

To the proceedings: Starmer’s first query seized cannily on the “sizzling mic” clip of Gillian Keegan which captured the training secretary clamouring for credit score over her Raac response. Ought to the PM be “thanked” for doing a great job?

The federal government is doing “every thing it might probably to repair this shortly” and minimise disruption, Sunak responded to opposition jeers.

The Labour chief returned to the despatch field, invoking the criticism of the previous everlasting secretary on the Division for Training who mentioned Sunak had blocked additional constructing funding for faculties as a part of the 2021 spending assessment, “Why does actually everybody else say it’s his fault?”, Sir Keir requested.

Sunak defended his report as chancellor, including that funding for upkeep and rebuilding can be £2.6bn per 12 months over this Parliament”

He added that Labour didn’t increase RAAC as soon as in the course of the debates on the assessment, accusing Starmer of leaping aboard one other “political bandwagon”. Sunak, usually damned as being too dry on the despatch field, was daring to be feisty. 

However there are various angles to the Raac story and so Starmer pressed forward. He famous that the training secretary authorised a £34 million refurbishment for her personal division, and requested Sunak if he may clarify “why a clean verify for a Conservative minister’s workplace is best use of taxpayer’s cash than stopping faculties collapsing”. 

Earlier than the recess, Sunak might need soaked up the criticism, repeating his pre-prepared traces. However not this time. Sunak mentioned the Nationwide Audit Workplace, the federal government spending watchdog, discovered Labour’s faculties spending plan, repeatedly referenced by Sir Keir, excluded 80 per cent of colleges and the scheme was “needlessly losing sources”.

The programme was discovered to be “time consuming and costly — similar to the Labour Social gathering”. Cue roars from the Conservative benches.

Starmer parried with a quip of his personal. “13 years of reducing corners, botch jobs, sticking-plaster politics — it’s the type of factor you count on from cowboy builders”.

“The distinction is that, on this case, the cowboys are working the nation”, he added. The Labour benches appreciated that.

As prime minister, Sunak has usually been terrified of recounting Boris Johnson’s outdated assault traces — lest Conservative MPs be reminded of how a lot better his predecessor-but-one carried out within the political theatre of the commons. However at the moment, beneath concerted stress from Starmer on Raac, he noticed match to revive an outdated Johnsonian retort: the Labour chief “Captain hindsight” stays on faculty buildings, he declared. 

He insisted that Raac “wasn’t even worthy of a single point out in his speech on training this summer time”.

(Labour’s new shadow chief of the Home Lucy Powell disagreed in a Level of Order after PMQs. “That is categorically unfaithful”, she mentioned, pointing to a passage the place Sir Keir references “faculty buildings [starting] to crumble”).

It was a coarser PMQs than among the exchanges pre-recess, one thing Sunak had clearly dedicated too as he defined how Starmer would have stored the UK faculties “locked down for longer” throughout Covid. 

Then he pivoted to “Labour-run Wales”, that timeless Tory riposte. He contrasted his efficiency with the Welsh devolved administration — liable for training — which is but to publish its personal listing of colleges affected by RAAC.

In all, each Sunak and Starmer managed to muscle of their pre-prepared assault traces — jousts which had been largely lapped up by the respective leaders’ baying backbenchers. 

However one wonders if Labour MPs might need been left hungry for extra. Sunak just about prevented being pinned down on his personal private duty for Raac, opting to go on the assault slightly than take up criticism. 

In the end, given the stakes had been considerably increased for Sunak right here, the actual fact he wriggled away with out too many bruises can be a trigger for enjoyment of No 10 and doubtless some minor consternation at Loto. Nonetheless, don’t count on Labour’s assaults on crumbling faculty buildings to quiet anytime quickly. 

PMQs verdict: Starmer 3, Sunak 3