He blew his stack. His mop almost came loose from his scalp. He wasn’t just jabbing his forefinger and tossing his arms around, he was throwing combinations and swinging at punch-bags. He almost did the Ali shuffle. At PMQs Boris delivered an amazingly combative performance. Last week he smouldered like Etna. This week the summit exploded. This was Krakatoa.
Sir Keir arrived, with his starched quiff and his icy smirk, hoping to undo the Prime Minister by stealth. He raised the notorious October quote when Boris is alleged to have said that ‘bodies piled high’ would be preferable to a renewed lockdown.
Did he say that?
‘No,’ Boris replied. ‘Lockdowns are miserable, appalling things to have to do.’ But his ‘tough decision’ had paid off. The vaccine roll-out, ‘and the heroic efforts of the British people,’ put us on the road to recovery.
The ‘bodies piled high’ quote is not a huge problem for the famously loose-tongued Prime Minister. It may even earn him respect among the millions of lockdown sceptics who detest the policy of self-incarceration. And why are the witnesses to the quote still anonymous? Is it stage-fright? Unless a recording can be produced, which is highly unlikely, Boris can claim that he was misheard or that he’s being smeared.
The cost of the Downing Street refurb is much trickier because the rules are so precise. Sir Keir asked who paid ‘the initial bill’.
Boris immediately went for his attacker’s jugular. He said that Sir Keir had described James Dyson as a personal friend of the PM. But that mis-statement had just been corrected by Dyson himself.
‘I paid for the Downing Street refurbishment personally,’ he added.
Would this do? No chance. Sir Keir repeated the ‘initial invoice’ question. Was it covered by the taxpayer, the Tory party or a private donor? Or did Boris dip a paw into his own wallet?
‘I’m making it easy for the Prime Minister. It’s multiple choice,' he said with a smile like a razor. 'Who paid the initial invoice? The initial invoice.’
Boris repeated his flimsy reply.
‘I’ve given him the answer. I have covered the costs.’
Not great. But at this point Boris began to boil over. He said the public would find Labour’s attitude ‘bizarre’.
‘He has half an hour to put serious questions about the pandemic and the vaccine roll-out… and he goes on and on about wallpaper.’
Throttling up, he roared through a list of Tory achievements. The economy is bouncing back. New homes are rising from the ground. Extra cops and nurses are in training. Tougher sentences for violent criminals have been enacted. Freeports are promised. The vaccine roll-out is among the fastest in the world. The toxic European Super League has been smashed to bits.
‘Last night,’ he raged, ‘our friends in the EU voted to approve our Brexit deal – which he fervently opposed.’
It was blistering stuff. A few weeks ago Sir Keir boasted that he was good at prosecuting shop-lifters but he's clearly not used to being answered back in court. He looked stunned as Boris re-wrote the Tory manifesto with a flame-thrower.
This performance will resonate where Boris wants it to. Beyond the bubble. Out there, in the shires and market-towns, the cloudburst we witnessed today will be spoken of for years.
But he may not have saved himself. ‘I covered the cost’ is a truthful statement. But also evasive. It seems likely that he received an improper bung and paid it back as soon as the sleuths took an interest. If so, this could be terminal. How tragic to be undone by soft furnishings. Wallpaper for Carrie and curtains for Boris.
If he’s finished here, America beckons. A talk-show hosted by BoJo would comfortably outperform Oprah. And he won’t stop at gold wallpaper in his new transatlantic home. He’ll be able to buy gold walls.