In a heated yet underwhelming Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 22 July, Keir Starmer led on the so-called ‘Russia report’. But instead of landing a decisive blow on Boris Johnson, the Labour leader missed an opportunity to nail the PM. Because Starmer failed to mention Russian Tory donors at the centre of the growing storm.
Russia report: money, money, money
As The Canary‘s Tom Coburg has previously reported, the long delayed report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) of Parliament on alleged Russian interference in UK politics has now been published. It covers cyber attacks, disinformation, and the role of Russian ‘ex-pats’.
But what the published parts of the ISC report failed to mention were the Russian and Putin-linked oligarchs who made donations to the Conservative Party. Coburg’s research found that four Russia-linked donors gave:
a whopping £2,578,909.38 (or £2,768.909.38 if including what appear to be additional payments by Lubov Chernukhin). Nearly all the donations went to the Conservative Party or individual Tory MPs.
You can read Coburg’s full analysis here.
You’d think, given that these donations could put the Conservative Party at the centre of the Russia report allegations, Starmer would at least have used one question to table the matter. But instead, he didn’t even bring it up.
Starmer: a limp biscuit
Actually when I was foreign secretary… we’ve been taking the strongest possible action against Russian wrongdoing, orchestrating… the expulsion… of 153 Russian diplomats around the world, while the right honourable gentleman opposite sat on his hands and said nothing while the Labour Party parroted the line of the Kremlin…
Starmer denied sitting on his hands, asking Johnson to withdraw his statement. He then went on to grill the PM on why the Conservatives, having been in power for ten years, had taken their “eye off the ball” – to the extent that the party, and government, “wasn’t even on the pitch”. Johnson blustered the question away – beginning a tit-for-tat rant which Starmer continued. The Labour leader then did his usual hand-wringing, saying the Labour Party would “support” new legislation in light of the Russia report (seemingly regardless of what that legislation will be). But he also asked why the Conservatives had taken so long to legislate in the first place.
What’s all the fuss about?
This backwards and forwards continued until, ultimately, Starmer finished, having failed to land any blows on Johnson. The limp line of questioning and focusing on security concerns allowed Johnson to deflect, detract and dismiss every point. Meanwhile, Russian oligarch money has flowed into Tory coffers. Yet Starmer will have left some of the public wondering what the fuss about the Russia report actually is.
Featured image via YouTube – ITV News
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