KEIR Starmer should have learned by now that adopting a scattergun approach to PMQs is pointless. There’s little evidence of his fabled “forensic” questioning today, as he squanders the opportunity to make Boris Johnson squirm and ends up with egg on his face.

As it’s Armistice Day he leads on funding for veterans’ charities, attempting to inspire outrage by contrasting this with the sums wasted on PR companies during the Covid crisis.

The only problem with this apparently winning strategy of “heroes versus spin doctors” is that – as the Prime Minister points out – communication is vital during a pandemic. Of course this doesn’t mean that every penny of the £130 million spend was justifiable, but it does rather puncture Starmer’s puffed-up outrage.

Undeterred, the Leader of the Opposition asserts that “there’s a real question about the way contracts are being awarded – about basic transparency and accountability”. Well indeed there is, so perhaps he should have led on this real question instead. Better still, he could have put the PM on the spot by reeling off details of some of the dodgiest deals that have been made with firms linked to members of the Conservative Party.

By suggesting the Government has been cavalier rather than calculated, Starmer lets Johnson off the hook. He tells us that the PM doesn’t know the value of the pound in his pocket, hence the reckless spending on things like millions of unsuitable face masks, but surely the truth is much more damning: that under the cover of the scramble for PPE, millions of pounds of public money was dished out to firms with no relevant track records but the right connections to people in power.

Starmer’s colleague Kate Hollern wants to know why it’s taking the Government two-and-a-half months to publish details of these contracts with cronies, far exceeding the legal limit of 30 days. Johnson wants to know why Labour “scorn and despise” the private sector so much.

The MP for Blackburn doesn’t even manage to extract a commitment that the deadline will be met in future – all we get is a rant about how Labour would seek to break up the giant conglomerates that are working on vaccines.

Had Starmer asked the right question to begin with, Johnson would no doubt have offered much the same ridiculous answer. However, he wouldn’t have had the freedom to do so safe in the knowledge there would be no follow-up question.

Of course he does also brazenly ignore follow-up questions, including those asked over a period of several weeks. It’s Groundhog Dog once again when Ian Blackford asks if the £20 per week uplift of Universal Credit, currently in place until March 2021, will be made permanent. “Yes of course,” replies Johnson, but unfortunately this is not the answer to the question Blackford asked. Instead it’s the answer to an alternative question he’s asked himself in his own head.

He’s glad the SNP are now “supporting Universal Credit” because this gives him the opportunity to fill time speaking another sentence that isn’t an answer to the question, while giving a false impression of why the new benefits system – complete with its in-built five-week delay – might ever have been opposed.

No doubt this game of PMQ ping-pong will continue until March, but there’s some light relief this week amid MPs welcoming the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the United States.

In congratulating them, Labour’s Angela Eagle can’t resist asking if the Prime Minister has “any advice for his erstwhile best friend”. “I had and have a good relationship with the previous president,” replies the PM, surely aware that referring to the sulker-in-chief as “the previous president” is the quickest way to turn him into a sworn enemy. If he’d been hoping for an invitation to a socially distanced round of golf, he had better not hold his breath.