Starmer vs. Johnson: who performed best against Susanna Reid?

Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer have both faced bruising interviews as they attempt to make their pitch to the country ahead of Thursday’s local elections.

The prime minister squirmed under a forensic examination from Good Morning Britain’s (GMB) Susanna Reid on Tuesday, who was quick to remind viewers that Johnson had refused to come on ITV’s flagship breakfast programme for a total of 1,791 days – apparently in response to strident criticism from former co-presenter Piers Morgan over the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This morning it was the leader of the opposition’s turn in the GMB hot seat, just a day before the UK goes to the pollsKeir Starmer faced questions over his attendance at a late-night beer and curry gathering in Durham last year, which some Conservatives insist broke Covid laws

Johnson ‘failed to show compassion’

If Johnson had expected a “gentle discussion of holiday plans and favourite colours” as a “warm-up” for the speech he was to give later to the Ukrainian parliament, he must have been sorely disappointed that Reid had “brought her A-game”, said Tim Stanley in The Telegraph

Reid addressed the cost-of-living crisis by questioning Johnson over the plight of Elsie, a 77-year-old pensioner whose energy bills have risen from £17 a month to £85 a month, forcing her to eat just one meal a day to save money, and to use her “Freedom bus pass to stay on buses all day to avoid using energy at home”. 

“What else should Elsie cut back on?” Reid asked. Johnson responded: “I just want to remind you, the 24-hour Freedom bus pass was something I introduced”.

It sounded as if he was suggesting “that Elsie’s cup of cyanide was half full”, said Stanley, before the prime minister went on to “opine that what the lady really needs is a dynamic economy that creates ‘high-wage, high-skilled jobs’”.

It was a “real giveaway”, wrote John Crace in The Guardian. The prime minister did not show “compassion” for Elsie and people like her, nor a “sense of duty to or responsibility for the country he professed to serve”. Rather, he only showed an “eagerness to take the credit for making it possible for pensioners to spend their days keeping warm at the bus company’s expense”. 

And while Johnson did introduce 24-hour Freedom Passes in 2009, they have been paid for by “London Councils since the 1980s, and not the Greater London Authority, which is headed by the Mayor of London”, added FullFact, which fact-checked the points the PM made on the programme.

Starmer faces ‘beergate’ grilling

Today it was Starmer’s turn to squirm as he faced questioning from Reid and Richard Madeley over the so-called beergate row. The Labour leader was photographed drinking beer at an indoor gathering with Labour officials at a constituency office in Durham on a Friday night in April last year. 

Starmer “finally confirmed” that Durham police had not been in touch over the event after repeatedly “dodging answering” the question yesterday, said the Daily Mail. And he looked “distinctly uncomfortable” as he “failed to deny that there had been dozens of people present”, said the paper.

He was “clearly frustrated” as he recounted the events of the night, telling Reid that the group had been “on the road” in the run-up to elections last year, and that “restaurants and pubs were closed, so takeaways were really the only way you could eat”. 

“So, this was brought in and at various points people went through the kitchen, got a plate, had some food to eat and got on with their work”, he told the programme.

Reid seemed “unconvinced” by Starmer’s response, said Harry Lambert in The New Statesman, and compared Starmer’s account to Johnson supposedly being “ambushed by cake” while working in Downing Street.

“In reality”, it was the prime minister who “presided over a months-long culture of rule-breaking in No. 10 and has been fined by police” and so their “positions are not comparable”, argued Lambert. But by holding back information on the evening until now, “Starmer appears to have needlessly put himself on the back foot”. 

The Labour leader also “tried to rubbish” claims from Madeley that his party had entered into an alliance with the Liberal Democrats in the South West by standing a third fewer Labour candidates in the area ahead of local elections, said the Daily Express. The Labour Party is “actually standing more candidates in this election than in any other party (and) more than we’ve stood for many years”, said Starmer. 


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