PMQs sketch: Yes, Keir Starmer is a lawyer. And your point?

At the latest count, as many as two-fifths of MPs have law degrees, and at least 15% of them were practicing lawyers at the time of their election. Lawyers are pretty commonplace in the Commons. If the half hour of Prime Minister’s Questions was billed pro rata at the day rate, the legal fees would be considerable.
Labour leader Sir Keir StarmerLabour leader Sir Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

Nonetheless, Boris Johnson thinks the funniest, most damaging thing about Sir Keir Starmer is his job. Surely it’s the name, the hair, the family donkey sanctuary - but none of these have been mentioned yet by the Prime Minister.

Instead, he spent much of PMQs reminding everyone that Starmer is a lawyer. In response, Starmer strongly asserted that yes, he is indeed a lawyer. In the middle of a health crisis and an economic collapse, it was gripping stuff.

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In his expert opinion, Starmer observed that the government has what is known in top legal parlance as a “big problem”. There are 33,000 thousand people in England estimated to have Covid-19, but the UK Government’s test and trace system is only reaching the contacts of 10,000 of them.

“If two thirds of those with covid-19 are not being reached and asked to provide contact details, there is a big problem, isn’t there?” If you were up for murder, you’d want this guy on your side.

Boris Johnson is a journalist not a lawyer, but used to earn the salary of a top QC by crafting articles that said little and offended many - sometimes two articles that did that while also contradicting each other.

Observe a classic of the genre: “I think that the right honourable and learned gentleman has been stunned by the success of the test and trace operation. Contrary to his prognostications of gloom, it has got up and running much faster than the doubters expected.” Deftly ignoring the question, pretending Starmer is stunned while also painting him a doom-monger - like the Labour leader, Johnson may no longer practice his chosen craft, but he has Still Got It.

The Prime Minister was “brushing aside challenge, dashing forward, not estimating the risks properly,” Starmer hit back, correctly identifying that he was facing Boris Johnson. “If two thirds of those with Covid-19 are not being contacted, that is a big problem.” There it is again, the killer argument.

Johnson tried to accuse Starmer of misleading the House, something which as an MP of 13 years’ experience he might have forgotten isn’t allowed. So after a telling off from the Speaker, he too used his best line: “I understand the constraints of the profession in which he used to work; I know how it works—he seems to be yo-yoing back into a position of opposition. Which is it: is he supporting what we are doing or is he against it?” Not only a lawyer, then: Starmer is also guilty of leading the opposition.

“He either dodges the question or he gives dodgy answers. Mr Speaker, no more witnesses; I rest my case,” Starmer later offered, filling the role like Martin Shaw filled a wig and silks (OK, he was a judge). Johnson dismissed claims from “m’learned friend” that he was stretching the truth by suggesting that “no country in the world has a working contact tracing app”.

In the course of their exchanges, neither party leader mentioned the looming risk of mass redundancies - the issue on the minds of most people at home, and what PMQs ought to have been about. Send them down.

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