David Bond and Nicholas Cecil
Wed, 8 June 2022, 4:25 pm
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer attacked Boris Johnson over his record on the NHS but was accused of failing to land any major blows on the embattled Prime Minister as the pair clashed in the Commons on Wednesday.
Mr Johnson faced his first Prime Minister’s Questions since he survived a vote of confidence in his leadership by Tory MPs two days earlier.
Although he won the vote, 41 per cent of Conservative MPs voted against Mr Johnson raising questions over his long term chances of surviving in the top job.
Arriving for PMQs, Mr Johnson was cheered loudly by his supporters on the Tory benches as he took his place at the despatch box flanked by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Chancellor Rishi Sunak. There were also audible boos from opposition MPs.
But rather than question the Prime Minister on the splits in the Tory party – a move which may have only served to unite Conservative MPs behind Mr Johnson – Sir Keir criticised Mr Johnson over GP numbers, cancer care and his commitment to build more hospitals.
Sir Keir cited a damning letter written by Tory MP and former Treasury Minister Jesse Norman made public ahead of Monday’s vote, saying: “The Prime Minister’s ‘big plan’ act is so tired that even once-loyal PMs don’t believe him and it’s not just waiting for a GP, it’s waiting for all NHS treatment.
“Take cancer, for over a decade waiting times for cancer care have been going up.”
He added: “Despite the hard work of doctors, people cannot see a GP in person, they are unhappier than ever with GP services. If GP provision was ‘wanting and inadequate’ before the pandemic, what is it now?
“Failure to fix wanting and inadequate NHS buildings is putting patients at risk isn’t it Prime Minister?”
Mr Johnson defended the Government’s record on the NHS saying it was spending billions on new buildings and helping to clear backlogs after the Covid pandemic.
He said Sir Keir’s line of attack wasn’t working and that he was “simply wrong”.
“This line of criticism is satirical – attacking our hospital building programme, when they were the authors of the PFI scheme that bankrupted so many hospitals,” he said.
“What we’re doing instead is building 48 new hospitals, yes we are, thanks to the… biggest capital investment programme in the history of the NHS.”
He added: “They opposed that funding, they opposed the health and care levy, they don’t have a leg to stand on, we’re building the foundations of our NHS’s future and they should support it.
“He is wrong about what we are doing and of course we have got to clear the Covid backlogs, and everybody understands the pressure that the NHS is under, but they are responding magnificently.”
Sir Keir’s focus on health during PMQs drew sarcastic tweets from Tory MPs including Foreign Office minister James Cleverly who said: “VONC [vote of no confidence] in Starmer deserved after this dire performance.”
Another Conservative MP, Nigel Adams, tweeted a video of former Chelsea striker Fernando Torres missing an open goal with the comment: “Starmer’s PMQs” and a face slap emoji.
Meanwhile former Labour minister Lord Mandelson raised fresh questions over Sir Keir’s leadership in an interview with Times Radio, saying he has “got about a year” to turn things around. “Between now and the next year… we’ve got to see more powerful brushstrokes, put down on that canvas,” Lord Mandelson said.