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How much longer can this go on? Previous prime ministers have at least been on nodding terms with the truth, but Boris Johnson is completely without shame. Without conscience. A sociopath for whom no lie is off limits, either in his public or his private life. What counts is reality as he would like it to be.
All of which makes prime minister’s questions increasingly pointless – other than as an exercise in Oxford Union am-dram – because there is no chance of Johnson ever admitting he has made a mistake or changed his mind. Today was a case in point. Keir Starmer thought he had Boris bang to rights. After all, even the defence secretary had said the government was planning to break the Tory manifesto promise not to cut the number of troops in his commons statement earlier in the week.
But for Johnson, any such admission was an impossibility, even after Starmer quoted directly from a newspaper article published during the last election campaign. The thing that was going to happen was not the thing that was going to happen. Reducing the number of troops was not actually reducing the number of troops because fewer soldiers would actually be more effective than having more. No wonder the Labour leader looked thoroughly confused by the time he had finished his six questions. Everyone was.
In theory, a two-hour session before the liaison committee – the supergroup of select committee chairs – should have been rather more demanding. In his first two outings as liaison chair, Bernard Jenkin had confounded the critics who believed he had only been chosen as he could be guaranteed to give the prime minister an easy ride, and Johnson had often struggled to give adequate answers to tricky questions. Only now Bernie seems to have relaxed into his intended role and, under his dozy eyes, Johnson was given free rein to waffle and talk over his questioners whenever anything or anyone threatened to get difficult for him.
Labour’s Darren Jones was the first to give up the unequal struggle of trying to get some straight answers. Could Johnson say whether he and the chancellor had authorised the £400m bailout to OneWeb? “Er … pifflepafflewifflewaffle,” said Boris. He couldn’t possibly comment on who did what and when because … well, because he didn’t feel like it. Jones tried another tack and inquired about any involvement No 10 might have had with David Cameron and Greensill. “That’s news to me,” Johnson replied.
“You haven’t actually answered any of my questions,” Jones complained, his 10 minutes of questioning having come to an end. Johnson looked delighted. This session was going to be a great deal less painful than he had feared. All he had to do was treat the session as a series of PMQs and he could get away with saying a lot about nothing. Like Jones, Tobias Ellwood also came unstuck when he tried to question Boris about his cuts to defence numbers. The prime minister merely mumbled for several minutes about taking defence very seriously and in the end Ellwood disappeared.
Things became slightly trickier when the questions became Covid-related – though not by much. After briefly touching on the vaccine dispute with the EU, Jeremy Hunt moved on to social care. Johnson had said he had a plan to take it as seriously as the NHS, but 18 months later there was still no sign of it, Hunt said. Though rather than suggesting that there might never have been a plan and he had duped the country, Hunt – under the watchful gaze of Jenkin – merely wanted some reassurance that it would be sorted soon. Preferably in the next Queen’s Speech. Boris nodded. Of course. This year, next year, sometime, never.
Meg Hillier tried to tempt Johnson on what mistakes he most regretted, but Boris was too savvy to be drawn. There were lots of things he might have done differently, but it was an unprecedented situation. Though one in which, vaccines apart, the government had performed noticeably worse than almost every other country. He even managed to wilfully confuse Hillier’s question about the Christmas regulations to make it sound as if he had been proactively draconian rather than had been forced into a U-turn.
Predictably, the spikiest exchanges were between Johnson and Yvette Cooper. The chair of the home affairs committee can’t stand Boris and makes no attempt to conceal her disdain. She wanted to know why the government was dragging its feet over putting France on the red list and the pair talked over one another for the best part of a minute before Jenkin intervened. Eventually, Boris did reluctantly hint that regulations might be tightened some time soon, but that was the closest he came to offering a news line in the entire session. He also didn’t seem to be aware that French lorry drivers could unhitch their containers at Dover and return home on the next ferry.
After that, it was all plain sailing for Boris. Mel Stride, the treasury select committee chair, seemed more embarrassed that Johnson wasn’t aware of what the OBR forecasts were or that they had been dismissed as hopeless underestimates by most independent economists. William Wragg, Huw Merriman and Karen Bradley were just embarrassments, seemingly overawed at being allowed to question their party leader.
Though he had feared the worst, it had all turned out hunky-dory. Johnson had been so relaxed, he had even found time to talk a bit of Latin and to regurgitate some of the research for the Shakespeare book he still hadn’t got round to writing. So much so that he looked almost disappointed when Jenkin brought the session to a close. If that was the worst the liaison committee could throw at him, then he could handle almost anything.
How much longer can this go on? Just keep delaying the public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic indefinitely and he could remain “world king” for many more years.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: No lie off limits for Boris Johnson | Politics