Sir Keir Starmer has not yet mastered tabloid politics. By being too long-winded during his second outing at PMQs, he threw away the ascendancy he has started to establish over Dominic Raab.
The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, told both of them to “put some speed on” or no one else would have a chance.
It was in Starmer’s interest to be brief, for then the evasiveness in the rambling replies given by Raab, standing in for new father Boris Johnson, would become more apparent.
But like a climber who weighs himself down with excessive quantities of equipment, and would have been better off leaving half of it at base camp, Starmer subjected the Chamber to excessive quantities of evidence.
He began with an analysis of the latest death figures, when all he needed to say, as he at last did, was these “are truly dreadful” – a point with which Raab had to agree.
Starmer proceeded to observe that while deaths in hospitals are going down, those in care homes appear to be going up, and asked why Raab thinks this should be.
“I will not shy away from saying this is a challenge,” Raab replied, “challenge” being the vaguely positive word our politicians apply to problems they do not know how to solve.
Quite soon, Raab added, in his cloth-eared way, that “there’s no minimising or sugar-coating those cris de coeur he mentioned”.
“We’d like to try to support the Government’s strategy when we know what it is,” Starmer said, a remark which needed only the addition of the words, “What is it?”
Today was a second practice run for Starmer. Raab for him is an irrelevance. The target is Boris Johnson, a formidable debater.
Starmer, one ventures to predict, will sometimes win their encounters. But he will have to transcend his lawyerly insistence on building a case buttressed at every turn with evidence.