PMQs verdict: a distinct improvement on what came before | Politics

Snap verdict

This was Sir Keir Starmer’s first outing as Labour leader at PMQs, facing Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary and first secretary of state, who was standing in for Boris Johnson. Just as importantly this marked the debut for a whole new way of running this question session – a “hybrid” system, with most MPs participating by Zoom. Both probably amount to a distinct improvement on what came before.

First, the process. On a technical level it mostly worked well. One MP did not manage to dial in in time, and another got cut off early. But overall it worked without a hitch.

More importantly, PMQs without 400-odd MPs in the chamber makes everything quieter, calmer, more intelligible and more grown-up. For once the proceedings sounded like the question time sessions that take place in the Scottish parliament and the Welsh assembly. Without the jeering and the aggro, it lacked gladiatorial edge, and frankly it was probably a bit more boring than the old PMQs. But boring is a much under-rated virtue in governance. It will be be very interesting to see whether the Commons ever reverts to how it operated before when (or more probably if) this is all over.

Under the old PMQs MPs worked on the assumption that there was always a “winner” at PMQs. (Journalists like me wrote it up like in those terms too, because that was how the participants viewed the proceedings.) Under Zoom PMQs it is much harder to imagine anyone “winning” old-style, but if Labour had to choose someone well suited to parliament in serious/boring mode, it is hard to imagine anyone better than Starmer, and he will chalk today’s outing up, not as a triumph, but certainly as a success. His questions were clear, forensic and focused, he avoided bland or trite sloganising and he adopted a measured tone consistent with responsible, constructive opposition. Quite what the public will make of this when the alternative is Johnson remains to be seen, but high-grade seriousness is what Starmer offered in the Labour leadership contest and it is what he delivered today.

Key quotes:

Keir Starmer:

I’m disappointed we don’t have a number for social care workers [who have died] and I put the first secretary on notice that I’ll ask the same question again next week and hopefully we can have a better answer.

Dominic Raab:

People said that we couldn’t build a hospital in this country at that kind of speed, and we’ve built several, with more to come.

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