Today’s performance surpassed the usual antics of the lawyer vs the Silicon Valley tech bro, as they both did their best rendition of mid-level accountants for a second-tier construction company.
While there was ample ground to make a bit of noise – Thames Water was on the verge of collapse, a London Mayor hopeful was accused of groping in No10 and a report found the government was likely to break its own laws on climate targets – the pair drawled on about housing.
The lacklustre jostling between the two amounted to Starmer trying to remember which of his MPs had opposed house building in their own constituencies, and Sunak jamming his finger at the terms and conditions of the so-called “mortgage charter” saying “well if you just see here, you’ll see you’re not actually broke”. Understandably, there were a number of empty seats on the green benches. Even MPs had better things to do.
The Labour leader kicked off by trying to nail Sunak down on whether he did or did not have a target to build 300,000 new homes. Spoiler: he doesn’t. The number is now “advisory” and a “starting point”, because the Conservatives are too clever to have anything like accountability for their policy points, except of course that sticky thing about “climate change”.
Thanks to this skulduggery, Sunak managed to fudge the numbers when he bragged about building a record number of homes.
On the government’s own figures, the number of homes where construction had started in the last quarter of last year was down nine per cent on the same time the year before.
True, there were 232,820 new homes built in 2021-22, a technical 10 per cent increase on the previous years. But let’s not forget (certainly the Covid-19 inquiry won’t let us), the world had shut down in 2020, including much construction.
But quibbling over numbers makes for boring telly, which is presumably why Keir Starmer didn’t think to point it out.
Instead, he pivoted to the winner line: “Because of the economic chaos, mortgage holders will be £2,900 poorer.”
The only problem is he used the same one last week, and while, yes, homeowners will be furious their payments have gone up, they’re almost always more angry when someone threatens to “concrete over the greenbelt” as shadow housing secretary Lisa Nandy has done.
Except, at one point, she threw her support behind a local Labour candidate in Barnet who explicitly ran on a promise of protecting the greenbelt. Oops.
The government might not be able to keep Thames Water in business, but at least the pair of leaders will keep the readership of Full Fact buoyant.