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It all comes down to a matter of personal preference. In the opening question, the Tory MP, Michael Fabricant, had described Keir Starmer as the sort of “smarmy lawyer” that the country didn’t want. Shame then, he didn’t think to mention the alternative on offer. A narcissistic opportunist chancer, who is only on nodding terms with reality and has been sacked at least twice for lying. On balance, given the year we’ve all just had, most would choose a former director of public prosecutions. But there’s no accounting for taste.
For what was generally assumed to be the last prime minister’s questions before Christmas, Starmer chose to use the session as a greatest hits roundup. A scorecard of Boris Johnson’s end of year performance. It rapidly turned into a theatre of the absurd as Boris, who appeared to have made an effort to look even more shambolic than usual, yet again failed to answer any of the questions put to him.
At one point he even accused Starmer of trivialising the occasion; the height of cheek given that trivialisation has been Johnson’s prime defence at PMQs once he realised it was the only way of dealing with a Labour leader who had his measure. If you turn everything into a joke there’s an even chance that some of the more serious stuff might get missed. And when you’re consistently losing, anything that slips under the radar counts as a win.
Starmer began by asking if the country had been too slow to lock down, given the UK is the world’s sixth largest economy and has suffered one of the highest death rates and deepest economic recessions. Boris tugged his hair – a sure tell that he’s about to lie – and said that everything had worked out just fine. With help from Typhoid Dido we had still managed to fit in the Cheltenham festival and it was just petty to quibble about a possible 20,000 extra deaths.
Then Johnson went completely rogue. “We have always followed the science,” he insisted. Apart from the times when he hasn’t. Most scientists wanted to go into lockdown sooner in March. They also wanted a further short lockdown in September. And they sure as hell don’t want the five-day Christmas killing zone that the government has set its heart upon. Even more bizarrely, Boris acted as if both the lockdowns the country has been put in were nothing to do with him, and were all the fault of the namby pamby Labour leader. I guess Johnson is often as surprised as the rest of us that he is actually in charge of the country.
Time and again, Keir tried to drag Johnson back to reality, but with limited success. He got no answer as to why Dominic Cummings – the man whose 50-mile round trip to Barnard Castle that single-handedly undermined the credibility of the government’s public health messaging – was worth a £40K pay rise when public sector workers were getting a pay freeze. Nor could Boris answer why, if the government’s new tiering system was working, the rate of infection was going up in three-quarters of the country. Instead, he accused the Labour leader of having no plan. Apart from the one that he and the editors of the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal had endorsed.
“There is a unanimous agreement that we should proceed with the regulations,” Johnson said, almost exactly at the same time as the first ministers of Scotland and Wales were suggesting their citizens didn’t pay too much attention to the regulations and followed the considerably stricter guidelines and lockdown restrictions that they were issuing instead.
It could have been a fudged compromise, but you can never be too sure with Boris as for him language is a moving target. He did, though, say that people should exercise personal responsibility in their choices. Something that is not his strong point: his family have been trying for years to get him to behave responsibly with no great success. Come the close, it wasn’t entirely clear what his message was. Something like ‘Go and visit your relatives but don’t go and visit them’. Schrodinger’s Xmas. Starmer ended by quoting from a Wellingborough Conservative newsletter that suggested it was best to use fake news and say the first thing that came into your head. Boris’s answers throughout the session rather suggested he had taken the message to heart.
There was a rather more serious Johnson on offer at the afternoon press conference with Chris Whitty, but the message remained much the same contradictory nonsense. Obey the rules but don’t obey the rules. The rules are really only there for show – remember it was Boris who promised us that the pandemic would all be over by Christmas – so try not to see anyone, if at all possible. Again, the prime minister appealed to his own terra incognita of personal responsibility yet somehow managed to leave the viewer with a sense that the government had just abdicated its own.
Even as Johnson was speaking, Wales was upgrading its Christmas guidance into law. Yet the prime minister has so little sense of personal responsibility either to himself or the nation that he is incapable of reviewing a promise he made last month in the light of new scientific evidence. He knows what the right thing to do is, but is incapable of doing it. We now have Pontius Boris. A leader who has washed his hands of the difficult decisions. He had told people to have a shorter, safer “merry little Christmas” and he believed his job was done. If more people died, then it was their own stupid fault. Come January and February, there may well be a reckoning. Where’s the smarmy lawyer when you need him?
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Theatre of the absurd as Boris tells country: obey the rules, don’t obey the rules | Politics