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Where’s that 10-year prison sentence when you need it? Too many more prime minister’s questions like this and everyone will be making false claims on their arrival documents in the hope of getting sent down. And begging for no parole and a cell with no TV. There again, it might just be easier and cheaper to bang up Boris Johnson instead. After all, Boris and the truth have seldom even been on nodding terms with one another, so it wouldn’t be too hard for parliament to come up with some new law he has broken.
There was a brief four-month period after Keir Starmer became Labour leader when PMQs felt animated. Relevant even, with Starmer time and again getting under Johnson’s skin. Since then, the balance of power has shifted somewhat. Not so much that Keir’s questions have become any less coherent; rather that Boris has managed to nullify them with a mixture of bluff and bluster so that no one really cares that much any more. Johnson has shamelessly managed to lower people’s expectations to the point where everyone would be astonished if he were to give a straight answer to a straight question. He has become the overlord of political anti-matter.
This week was yet another case in point. A low-key affair from which almost no one would remember that Starmer had got slightly the better of the exchanges because most would have zoned out midway through. Johnson likes to think of himself as an enthusiast – someone who makes things happen through force of personality – but torpor is his secret weapon. Somehow the Labour leader needs to find a way of not allowing himself to be dragged down to Johnson’s level.
Things got slightly more lively when Starmer reminded MPs that it had been Johnson who had said, “Fuck business”, had always written two opposing columns, had nominated Donald Trump for a Nobel prize and had given Dominic Cummings a pay rise. Not all of which was completely accurate, but Starmer was counting on Boris not to remember precisely what he had and hadn’t done.
The Labour leader then moved on to border security. A report showed there were 33 countries that had stronger measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “We are among the toughest,” Johnson insisted, momentarily forgetting that none of the restrictions announced by Matt Hancock the day before would come in force until next week. And why, if the measures were necessarily so draconian, had it taken the government nearly a year to put them in place. Surely a crime worthy of a 10-year stretch should have been made into law before more than 100,000 people had died?
Boris closed with a trademark rant. This time about how some Labour ministers were viewing the pandemic as a “great opportunity”. It seemed to have slipped his mind that he had said much the same at last year’s online Tory party conference. Nice to know the country is doing its bit to further people’s political careers. Still, why let memory get in the way of a good soundbite?
One possible way of improving PMQs presented itself at the Downing Street press conference later in the afternoon. And that was to make sure that Boris is not allowed out in public unless he is within two metres of Patrick Vallance, as the chief scientific adviser appears to be the father Johnson clearly wanted to have had. When Boris is around Vallance, he can more or less pass himself off as an adult. He stands a bit straighter, he brushes his hair, but most of all he sounds more honest and realistic.
Not that Johnson really had much to say, other than to ask the two million people in the top four tiers who have yet to be vaccinated to come forward, but he managed to do so in a way that sounded more or less sincere. There was also some unexpected humility when he was asked about whether the improving infection rates might lead to an easing in the lockdown restrictions sooner rather than later. The Boris of old would have just yelled, “hell, yeah” but the new, more grown up Boris, looked across at Daddy Vallance and replied that it was still far too early to ease up. Any talk of summer holidays would have to wait for at least a fortnight and probably longer.
Old habits die hard, mind, and Boris became noticeably more hesitant when asked about newly released data that showed the government had last year ignored all the scientific advice aimed at preventing a worst case scenario. “We get a lot of different advice, don’t we Daddy?” he said furtively, while not getting round to explaining why he had allowed his natural enthusiasm to blank out the critical guidance on schools, going back to work and Christmas gatherings. For a brief second or two, what could have been a look of contrition crossed his face. Maybe it’s just begun to dawn on him that his poor decisions have cost thousands of lives.
But that was quite enough reality for one day. Hancock can spin out these briefings for the best part of an hour, but Johnson got this one done and dusted in just 30 minutes. Being a near grownup was awfully hard work and Boris needed to put his feet up for the day. Baby steps and all that.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Johnson’s bluff and bluster leave Starmer boxing in the dark | Politics