IThese were the Prime Minister’s last questions in the current parliament and the last before next week’s local elections. It was therefore hardly surprising that this session was rather bloodless than many encounters in recent weeks. Even the Conservative frontbench was decidedly a C-list event. All the big names in the cabinet had wisely decided not to show up.
It was an opportunity for the party leaders to get going – to ensure their best sound bites – before the battle resumed in a fortnight. But even a relatively underpowered Keir Starmer can easily get the better of Boris Johnson these days. The Convict has become little more than a self-parody. The madman of the madman.
The Labor leader began with a brief reference to claims Angela Rayner tried to distract Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs. Johnson insisted the Mail on Sunday story was false. No one cared more about eliminating sexist and misogynistic behavior than he did. And when he caught up with the Boris Johnson who had described female athletes as wet otters and suggested that patting women on the buttocks was completely acceptable, he had given her his opinion. Rayner decided to let it go and gave the Prime Minister a curt nod.
Thereafter, Starmer used all of his six cost-of-living questions. How come the UK was predicted to have the lowest growth of any G20 country except Russia? And what did the government propose to do to prevent inflation from spiraling further out of control? The country was in a total mess and the only plan the Tories seemed to have was to change the MOT laws. This was a government that was so out of ideas that it was counting on Grant Shapps to bail it out (having probably already plundered the brains of Priti Patel).
The Convict could only stammer, shouting random words, only some of which made sense. A few backbenchers loyally tried to cheer him on, but most just looked a little embarrassed. Predictably, the rants were loaded with lies. Time and again, Johnson was asked to correct his claims that 500,000 more people worked under his government. Yet he said it again. Compulsively. Necessarily. Shamelessly.
It was wrong. If you take the self-employed, unemployment is up 600,000. But Johnson is just blind to that. He continues to use whatever numbers he wants. As if he had the right to a truth of his choice. It was the 10th time he repeated the figure in the House of Commons. The Convict also claimed the country would still be under control if Labor were in government. So patently false that no one bothered to dispute it.
That’s how Johnson rolls. One lie after another, until the boundaries between truth and fiction dissolve. Where everything exists only as moral relativism. This is how Boris justified his lies about Partygate. The events took place only in his own imaginary universe of which he alone is judge and party.
“It must be the Oxford Union debating skills that we’ve heard so much about,” Starmer said. Scorn is a useful addition to his PMQ arsenal. Not so much a coherent convict argument as a salad of words. What the current government had to offer made the cone hotline a work of genius. In response, Johnson could only describe the Labor leader as a man “doomed to be a permanent spectator”. It looked more like Boris’ next forced and hubristic career change.
Things got a little more uncomfortable for the convict when Caroline Lucas pointed out that 56 MPs, including three ministers, were being investigated for alleged sexual harassment. Was that grounds for dismissal under the departmental code, she asked. Even though lying and bullying apparently weren’t.
She could also have included the minister whom Tory female MPs reported to the Chief Whip for watching pornography on her phone in the Commons. Think how stupid you must be to do this in a place where you can be observed from almost any angle? And televised. In fact, rub that. It is all too easy to imagine that some MPs are weak enough to think they could get away with this. Or even not being aware of the risks. A triumph of anti-awakening. Or just continue with the work in progress. As it was.
Johnson sounded less than convincing as he said anyone found guilty would be fired. First, he would end up with a lot of loopholes in government, and second, he’s hardly the person to lecture anyone about sexual propriety. The convict was the man who escaped from his job as mayor of London to take pole dancing lessons. Although he did, at least, do that in the privacy of someone else’s home.
The rest of the session rather trailed off, but not before Johnson embarrassed himself further. Was he self-aware enough to be capable of shame. He first remarked that it was strange that Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey was not in the House of Commons to represent his constituents. This from a man who literally did everything last week to avoid the scrutiny of his fellow MPs. He went on to lie about when he knew Covid could be transmitted asymptomatically. To deny responsibility for 20,000 nursing home deaths in March and April 2020, when China warned of asymptomatic transmission as early as January, was crummy even by its standards.
At the end, Michael Fabricator stood up on a point of order. He wanted it on record how delighted he was to be put on a list of 287 MPs – some of whom are no longer MPs – who had just been sanctioned by the Russian government. Nothing he had done before in his life had given him such self-esteem. The rest of us thought it was the most sensible thing the Russians had done in years. If only we could do the same and keep Mickey Fab out of the UK.