Labour Insiders Quietly Confident Ahead Of Starmer Versus Truss At PMQs

Prime minister Liz Truss and Labour leader Keir Starmer will go head-to-head at 12pm today.
Keir Starmer and Liz Truss will go head to head on Wednesday
Keir Starmer and Liz Truss will go head to head on Wednesday

Political geeks get the popcorn ready for when Liz Truss steps into the bear pit to tackle her first prime minister’s questions.

Not only will today be the first public test of Truss’s premiership, it is going to be a huge moment for Keir Starmer to seize the agenda.

The Labour leader’s serious strait-laced style often saw him overshadowed by Boris Johnson who was a loud rambunctious performer.

But Starmer’s forensic approach and lawyerly attention to detail will now be applied to a new leader at 12pm on Wednesday.

One thing that they both have in common is that neither of them are natural performers.

Starmer might have more PMQs experience but his supporters are acutely aware that he cannot battle Truss in the same way he did Johnson.

Only last night Starmer told a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party: “We will never underestimate Liz Truss.

“She is a talented politician who has got to the top through hard work and determination.”

And while they publicly tear into Truss, Labour MPs and staffers are not complacent.

As one insider told HuffPost UK: “I think Truss is a very skilled parliamentary performer - if your view of what you do in parliament is you swerve trouble and avoid difficult questions and occasions.

“She knows her way around parliament, she knows how to stay out of trouble as a minister and not get into bother.

“But whether you can do that as a prime minister, well, that’s a different game.”

For some party insiders Truss was always the “wildcard” candidate.

“Sunak gave us the best attack lines ever. He put up your taxes while bringing his own down,” one staffer said.

“Truss is someone who knows their own mind, she’s not someone to underestimate. That said - we think the policies she is setting out are the wrong direction for the country.”

In today’s PMQs Truss will not be able to send in junior ministers on her behalf and she must endure sustained pressure for around half an hour.

She also does not possess the art of bluster that Johnson has - when he would often change the subject or dismiss an issue altogether.

Truss can instead seem awkward when put on the spot as an interview with Sky’s Kay Burley showed when she was asked if she attended any parties during lockdown.

But one Labour insider said Starmer will have to “relearn the art of PMQs” because Johnson was more of a “moving target”.

They added: “The onus is on you as the opposition leader to make it an event and have a successful outing.

“Truss absolutely has it within her locker to make an effective attack, she can deliver a soundbite for the 10pm news, she has more discipline than Johnson.

“She is also absolutely able to take the sting out of an attack by being incredibly dull and not really rising to what’s going on.”

Starmer will have a plethora of topics to tear into Truss over - from the chaotic drawn out Tory leadership race and the devastating cost of living crisis.

“While the Tories have spent the last few months focused on the leadership race, we’ve been getting on with the job and are ready to take immediate action,” said one Labour frontbencher.

Labour’s attack strategy currently centres on a leaked recording in which she launched a broadside against British workers, saying they needed “more graft” and suggesting they lacked the “skill and application” of foreign rivals.

Labour Party spinners think the revelation, made in The Guardian, is hugely damaging to Truss’s brand.

They argue it is insulting to people who are working all hours to make ends meet and undermines how she portrayed herself as the more working class candidate.

On Monday night Starmer told his MPs her comments about workers were “toxic” and added: “The same old tired, Tory ideas that got us in this mess have no chance of fixing it.”

On the day Truss was announced as the United Kingdom’s next prime minister, Labour’s reaction was to row into battle.

Starmer clearly put his party on an an election footing by declaring that “nothing is really working anymore” in Britain.

Labour frontbenchers have been on the TV and airwaves hammering home their message that the Tories are out of ideas and only Labour has the answers.

One Labour shadow minister said: “Make no mistake Liz Truss has spent the last few years propping up a Tory government that has utterly failed at every level.

“She doesn’t have the answers - and she clearly isn’t on the side of ordinary working people.”

Insiders accuse her of “rehashing” failed policies and “shibboleths” for the Tory right.

“There’s nothing new there, just the latest Tory PM talking the language of change,” one said.

As one backbench MP commented: “It’s all just continuity Boris, whoever won. We need a general election now.”

Another veteran Labour MP said Truss had showed “little indication” that she had a grasp of what needed to be done.

“She may try present this as a new administration but she’s been a minister through this period in which they’ve presided over drastic deterioration of services - and living standards.”

Asked about Labour’s prospects at the next election, the MP replied: “It is, as they say in the military, a ‘target rich environment’.

“They are a government that never had many ideas in first place, now they are rudderless and inefficient.”


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