PMQs: Pantomime Starmer wasted his chance

20 January 2022

2:45 AM

20 January 2022

2:45 AM

Does Boris lie? Well, yes, of course, he’s a politician. That’s the standard response to the honesty question. And in some circumstances, we forgive MPs for telling whoppers. Christian Wakeford, elected as a Tory for Bury South, has just joined the Labour party and effectively admitted that he told a pack of lies to voters at the 2019 election. Yet Sir Keir Starmer welcomed this proven swindler to the opposition and boasted about his defection at PMQs.

Labour crowed with pleasure. Boris tried to silence them by predicting that Bury South would return to the Tories at the next election, ‘under this Prime Minister.’

Hear that? Boris won’t quit.

Referring to the festival atmosphere at No. 10 during lockdown, Boris stressed that ‘work’ was being done there ‘and across Whitehall’. And the result of all this marvellous ‘work’ was the successful vax programme and the economic resurgence. Pretty tenuous. To every other query about partygate, he replied that Sue Gray’s report would be out next week. Her tumultuous oeuvre is now more eagerly awaited than Ghislaine Maxwell’s autobiography.

Sir Keir Starmer had a tricky time. If everyone expects you to deck your opponent you need to get him down fast. It didn’t happen. Sir Keir turned into a self-adoring giggle-pot and spent the entire session smirking, laughing, rolling his eyes, tossing his head, and throwing up his hands in contemptuous disbelief. All done to humour his baying supporters. He’s over-excitable. No gravitas. Today he simply needed to do his ‘disappointed waxwork’ routine and let public anger fill in the gaps. Instead, he tittered and simpered like a teenage boy who’s just been kissed. He raised Boris’s apology to the Queen for a No. 10 all-nighter on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral. The speaker slapped him down.

‘We normally would not, and quite rightly, mention the royal family.’ Shouldn’t Sir Keir know that? The speaker, incidentally, has tested positive for John Bercow. He’s nearly as disruptive and bossy as his bothersome predecessor. He should blow the whistle less and let things flow.

Backbenchers vied to land a fatal blow on Boris. Peter Grant of the SNP dodged the rules by repeating a constituent’s opinion. ‘The Prime Minister is a charlatan, a hypocrite and a liar.’

That won him today’s ‘cheeky monkey’ award. But there was worse to come for Boris. Far worse. David Davis, a decent backbencher fading into irrelevance, delivered what is known as ‘a book deal intervention’. His question — which was more a dagger than a query — will put him at the top of the headlines for the next 24 hours. And yes he’ll be signing a contract for his memoirs around noon tomorrow.

He did it rather well. In sombre and regretful tones he said he had defended the Prime Minister at every opportunity but his patience was now exhausted. Dipping into history he said he wished to echo the phrase directed by Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain in 1940.

‘In the name of God, go.’

Boris’s reply also made history: ‘I don’t know what he’s talking about,’ said the Prime Minister. ‘And I don’t know what quotation he’s alluding to.’

Yes he did. Everyone knew what quotation Davis was alluding to because he’d just cited its source and its target. Boris lied. He told the house a humungous whopper. Oddly enough, no one noticed.

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