The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 18 July 2022.
The delusion is never-ending. What a relief for the country that Conservative Members have finally got round to sacking the right hon. Gentleman. In many ways the chaos of the last fortnight is familiar. This is the third Tory leadership contest in six years, the latest bumper summer for graphic designers and brand managers, the latest parade of pretenders promising unfunded tax cuts, the latest set of ministerial jobs handed out on a wink and a shake in return for a nomination, and TV debates so embarrassing that even the contestants are pulling out. Every other year, they switch out a failed Prime Minister. It is like a once-secure premier league side burning through managers as it slides inevitably towards relegation. The end of the season cannot come soon enough.
But besides the déjà vu, things are different this time. David Cameron left office because he lost a referendum. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) left office because her party could not agree on how to leave the EU. There were serious policy and political disagreements, and the Labour party had our own profound disagreements with both former Prime Ministers on how to grow the economy and how to run our public services, but no one seriously disputed that they were fit for office or that they could be trusted to carry out their own—[Interruption.] I suggest that some of those on the Conservative Benches reread their resignation letters. No one seriously disputed that those former Prime Ministers were fit for office, that they could be trusted to carry out their responsibilities, that the information they gave their Ministers was true to the best of their knowledge or that the policies they proposed were the ones that they believed were best for the country. So no one objected to them staying on while a successor was found.
Mark Jenkinson (Workington) (Con)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Not at the moment.
There are clearly policy disagreements between the Prime Minister and his party. I know that he spent the weekend throwing another party—obviously a very good party, judging by the last 20 minutes—but can I suggest that he uses catch-up TV to see what they have been saying in the leadership debates? The Foreign Secretary, who has now left the Chamber, said the Prime Minister’s economic policy
“is not going to drive economic growth.”The Minister for Trade Policy, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), said the Government have left public services in a “state of disrepair.” And the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) said junior Ministers raised concerns about fraud that were ignored and cost the taxpayer £17 billion. This is what that side are saying in the leadership debates. The people behind the Prime Minister are not happy with his record, whatever they say and jeer now.
Unlike his predecessors, this Prime Minister has not been forced out over policy disagreements and, despite the delusions he has fostered in his bunker, he has not been felled by the stampede of an eccentric herd. Instead, he has been forced out in disgrace, judged by his colleagues and peers to be unworthy of his position and unfit for his office. He promoted someone he knew to be a sexual predator. [Interruption.] It might be an idea to listen. And he then denied all knowledge when it inevitably went wrong. He lied to his Ministers about what he knew, and he allowed them to repeat those lies to the country. It is the same pattern of behaviour we saw when he and his mates partied through lockdown, denied it for months and forced his Ministers to repeat those lies until he was found out. He cannot change.
Even last week he was tearing up the rules by insisting that an Opposition motion of no confidence could not be heard. He promoted an ally to the ministerial payroll as she literally gave the public the middle finger. And he appointed a Chancellor with questions to answer about tax avoidance and his personal finances. [Interruption.] They all know—
Shaun Bailey (West Bromwich West) (Con)
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Chair has been very clear at times about being conscious of language. From my understanding, the Chancellor has denied that accusation. Perhaps you could guide the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) on how to temper his language.
What I will say is that I want everybody to think carefully about what they say in this Chamber and the effect it has on people, which does concern me. Neither the Clerks nor myself can hear a lot of what is being said. Could the House just turn it down so we can hear?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
They all know it cannot go on. Just read their resignation letters. The right hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) went after saying this is
“The last straw in the rolling chaos”.
The hon. and learned Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) had enough of “defending the indefensible.” And the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) simply said the Prime Minister is an
“apologist for someone who has committed sexual assault”.
When the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) resigned, he accused the Prime Minister of not conducting Government “properly, competently and seriously.” I presume he was talking about their appalling joint economic legacy of the highest inflation and the lowest growth in the G7, leaving us with the highest tax burden since rationing and with diminished public services. That is the record, but the rhetoric does not match it. He suggested the Prime Minister is not prepared to “work hard” or “take difficult decisions,” and he implied that the Prime Minister cannot tell the public the truth. They all read the letter, and they know what he said.
But this week, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) is trying to convince us to ignore all that—apparently, he has changed his mind; asked a straight question, he will not tell his party that the Prime Minister is dishonest. Now he is saying that the Prime Minister is actually a “remarkable” man with “a good heart”. It is pathetic; there can be no one worse placed to rebuild the economy than the man who broke it. There can be no one worse placed to restore trust than the man who propped up this totally untrustworthy Prime Minister.
Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con) rose—
I will make some progress and then I will give way. Instead of rewriting history, Conservative Members need to face up to what they have done—what they have put this country through. Despite knowing exactly who he is, despite knowing that he always puts himself before anyone else, despite knowing that he had been fired from job after job for lying, they elected him to lead their party, and he behaved exactly as everyone feared when he got into Downing Street. He lurched from one scandal to the next; he demeaned his office; and he started to drag everyone and everything down with him. So, belatedly, they found him unfit for office, too untrustworthy for government.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman sounds as though he is describing his own actions. For year after year, he sat there while the Labour party was found guilty of breaching the law by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the antisemitism of the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). Why did the right hon. and learned Gentleman not have the courage to stand up at the time for what was right?
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman realises why we are having this debate. It is because so many—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Holden, you, quite rightly, asked a question and, like yourself, I would like to hear the answers. Let’s move on.
We are having this debate because dozens of Front Benchers resigned their posts because they would not serve this Prime Minister. They are sacking him because he is untrustworthy. That is why we are having this debate. Normally in a debate such as this the Prime Minister asks for a vote of confidence so that he can carry on, but this one—[Interruption.]
Order. I am very bothered about where this is going. The use of language needs to be brought into a more temperate manner and we need to calm it down. Let’s see how we can try to progress in a more orderly way, while being more temperate in what we are saying.
So, Mr Speaker, why are they leaving him with his hands on the levers of power for eight weeks? This is eight weeks where the British public must trust the word of a Prime Minister who has been sacked because he can’t be trusted; eight weeks where Britain will be represented abroad by someone who has lost all respect at home; and eight weeks of a caretaker Government led be an utterly careless Prime Minister. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t matter, and that these are just the quiet summer months when everyone goes to the beach, is in denial about the severity of the challenges our country faces.
The war in eastern Ukraine drags on; the Nord Stream pipeline has been shut down; flights are being cancelled left, right and centre; and Britain is facing an unprecedent heat wave, as our climate changes in front of our very eyes. These are serious challenges—[Interruption.] Conservative Members do not think that these are challenges. These are serious issues that will require serious leadership. Hard decisions will have to be made. This is not the summer for Downing Street to be occupied by a vengeful squatter mired in scandal. Every day they leave him there, every hustings they refuse to distance themselves from his appalling behaviour and every vote they cast today to prop him up is a dereliction of duty. It is a reminder that the Prime Minister has only been able to do what he has done because he is enabled by a corrupted Conservative party every step, every scandal and every party along the way.
I know that there has been fearmongering that this motion might lead straight to a general election. Sadly, that is complete nonsense, but you can see why they fear the electorate. After 12 years of failed Tory Government, Britain is stuck—stuck with a low-growth economy; stuck at home, unable to get a passport or a flight; stuck on the phone, trying to get a GP appointment. Our taxes are going up, food and energy bills are out of control, and the public services we rely on have simply stopped working. And every Tory standing to lead their party has given up on trying to defend—[Interruption.] Prime Minister, they have no confidence in you—that is why you are going. [Interruption.]
Order. We really are struggling to hear. I want to be able to hear, and then we can make better judgment calls. Both the Clerks and I are struggling. Please, can we calm it down and think about what we are saying?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Britain deserves a fresh start with Labour, free from those who got us stuck in the first place, free from the chaotic Tory party and free from those who propped up this Prime Minister for months and months. And here is the difference: under my leadership, the Labour party has changed, and we are ready to do the same for the country—to get our economy growing, to revitalise our public services, and, after this Prime Minister has damaged everything around him, to clean up politics. This House should make a start by voting no confidence in this Prime Minister this evening.