Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

There really is no hope for Rishi Sunak

Credit: House of Commons

Bad news for Rishi Sunak at PMQs. Caught out by Sir Keir Starmer, he handed Labour a wonderful soundbite for the next election: Rishi, the crimewave king. 

Sir Keir opened by calling Rishi a ‘jumped-up milk-monitor.’ He mocked his ‘seventh relaunch in 18 months’ and called it a war against ‘that gravest of threats, colourful lanyards.’ 

Sir Keir mentioned a cost-cutting scheme to liberate criminals before their sentences are complete.

‘What criminals? Where are they?’ he asked. He sought an assurance that none were ‘high risk.’ 

Rishi, on the defensive, referred to the scheme’s ‘strict eligibility criteria,’ as it were the membership rules for a polo club. He was desperate to talk about defence and his government’s ‘fully funded’ pledge to re-arm Britain.

Rishi flailed wildly

‘Fully funded,’ scoffed Sir Keir. ‘Just like his £46 billion,’ he said, referring to Tory plans to scrap National Insurance. He went back to his key point about freeing convicts. ‘Are any of the prisoners he is currently letting out early considered high risk?’

Rishi swaddled himself in Whitehall waffle – never the sturdiest of armour – and assured Sir Keir that the liberated felons would be ‘subject to the toughest licensing conditions.’ What does that mean? Unlocking their cell-doors doesn’t sound very tough. At this point, Sir Keir picked up Rishi’s deadliest weapon and used it against him – the detail. A report issued by Lewes Prison has reached Sir Keir and he picked out a few phrases from the small print and flung them across the despatch box. Rishi ducked but he couldn’t avoid getting splattered. Deadly ink covered his beautiful suit. 

‘Page Five,’ quoted Sir Keir. ‘A risk of prisoners being released at short notice without sufficient planning.’ He mentioned a ‘high risk prisoner released early’ despite allegations of stalking and domestic abuse. And it got worse. ‘He was a risk to children,’ said Sir Keir. ‘Does the early release of stalkers and domestic abusers … sound like the work of someone who is making the country more secure?’

Rishi was ill prepared. He hadn’t read the report, perhaps. He said that freedom would not be granted to ‘anyone on a life sentence.’ And he accused Labour of releasing ‘thousands of violent offenders and even two terrorists’ (whom he didn’t name).

Fresh scorn from Sir Keir greeted this. 

‘Well I’m glad to glad to hear that those on life sentences aren’t being released early.’ He reminded the house that Labour had ‘called for domestic abusers to be exempt from the scheme.’ He cunningly gave the document a semi-official title, ‘the Lewes Report’, as if it were an enquiry into government malpractice. 

‘We now have evidence that domestic abusers are being released early,’ he said. 

Rishi flailed wildly. He accused Labour of releasing ‘16,000 offenders’ and he added that ‘multiple murders’ had been committed as a result. 

In reply, Sir Keir didn’t even have to try. He just mentioned the ‘burglars, abusers and stalkers’ who are about to walk our streets again. ‘Tell us where they are,’ he asked, ‘and what support their victims are getting.’

For the first time in his career he looked like a statesman. 

Closing the debate, Rishi committed the sin that he most often ascribes to Sir Keir. He used a readymade soundbite instead of improvising a reply based on what had just been said. 

‘They’ve had 14 years to think about the future but all they can do is talk about the past,’ he said, floundering hopelessly. 

Labour’s spin-machine will now swing into action and their backbenchers will be instructed to advertise ‘the conclusions of the Lewes report’ at every opportunity. The PM will be tagged with many unpleasant labels: ‘the prime minister of crime, the stalker’s friend, the abuser’s ally, the man who puts your kids in danger.’ 

Rishi’s done it this time. Down goes his ship. 

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