Today Boris gave his last performance at Prime Minister’s Questions. But was it his last? He left the House hanging at the end.
Speaker Hoyle began the historic session with a soggy little homily praising Boris for seeing us through ‘dark times during the pandemic’. Then, laughably, he told MPs to adopt a ‘respectful manner’ and to stick to ‘issues not personalities’. And he wasn’t finished there. He quoted Erskine May’s advice that ‘good temper and moderation’ are the hallmark of a distinguished parliamentarian. Do we really need this micromanager filing the chamber with his lugubrious dronings? Hoyle sounds like a control-freak park keeper who deflates the bouncy castle ‘due to excessive sunshine.’
His ruling was instantly defied by Kim Leadbeater who questioned Boris’s integrity and accused him of driving public trust to an all-time low.
‘Keep going Kim,’ shouted her female colleagues, fearing a slapdown from the chair.
But Hoyle didn’t order Leadbeater to button it. He seemed happy enough, having preached his sermon.
Up stood Sir Keir Starmer and he offered profuse thanks to the fire brigade for dousing some fires yesterday. And, in what may be a world first, he uttered an entire sentence about the public services without mentioning that his mother was a nurse. Then he turned to the mad scramble to replace Boris.
‘Why does he think [the candidates] decided to pull out of the Sky debate last week?’
‘I’m not following this thing particularly closely,’ shrugged Boris to general amusement. But why was he giving an answer? Previous occupants of the Speaker’s chair, like Bernard Weatherill, would rule out any question that was unrelated to the prime minister’s direct responsibilities. And the election of a successor is clearly outside Boris’s competence. But Speaker Hoyle seems unaware of that convention and he gave the backbenchers a free-ride as they abused the Tories’ fallen leader. The acrid juice of sour grapes flooded the chamber.
Ian Blackford of the SNP adopted a high-minded, clerical tone which suited him rather well. Blackford grows more like a bishop every day – or is it two bishops? – and he ordered Boris to ‘reflect on his conduct in office’ and ‘to find some peace of mind.’ He recited a list of Boris’s sins and finished with a bazooka round. ‘Downing Street is no place for a lawbreaker,’ he bellowed.
What exactly is wrong with Blackford? He’s the kind of Father Superior who bans cherries from the monastery but scoffs them alone in his cell at night, in between Hail Marys. Boris shot him down colloquially.
‘The personal abuse, I think, is a load of tosh,’ he said. And he advised Blackford ‘when he’s retired to his croft – to reflect on his long-running campaign to break up the greatest country in the world.’
About time too. Boris never once went nuclear with Blackford or treated him to the full megaton force of his derisive rhetoric. It was a tactical omission. The PM needed a strong SNP to keep Labour out in Scotland and to spook English voters with the possibility of a Starmer/Sturgeon alliance.
Ed Davy stood up and quoted Macbeth on the futility of human life. ‘A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.’ He somehow linked this to a call for a general election. Boris fired back with Hamlet. ‘More matter with less art,’ he said, describing Davey as Polonius. The erudite PM kept the House on its toes to the end.
Opposition backbenchers competed to deliver a final blow. It was an unedifying spectacle. Like seeing members of the crowd leaping into the ring to kick a defeated boxer. Geraint Davies called for curbs on inflation and predicted that Boris was too busy ‘helping City people making money from the cost of living crisis.’ The SNP’s John Nicholson asked how many ‘dodgy donors’ would be ennobled in his resignation honours.
Speaker Hoyle intervened. ‘Moderate language,’ he urged. And that was it. The Tory army of disloyalists sheathed their daggers momentarily and clapped Boris out of the chamber.
His last words at the despatch box were. ‘Hasta la vista, baby.’
‘I’ll see you again,’ in Spanish. The PM doesn’t quote foreign tongues idly.
What can he have meant by that?
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.