At PMQs Sir Keir attacked Boris for breaking social distancing rules. But not recently. A year ago, alleged the Labour leader, the guidelines had been ignored at a Downing Street Christmas party.
Boris was evasive. ‘No rules were broken.’ That’s all he would say. Sir Keir claimed this as an admission of guilt.
Not much of an ambush. Last year is pre-history. And the theme of Christmas gave Boris a chance to deepen the rift between Sir Keir and his ambitious deputy, Angela Rayner, whose invitation to Sir Keir’s Christmas bash has vanished in the post. Boris revealed Rayner had been deeply stung by the snub. She said it was, ‘idiotic, childish and pathetic,’ quoted Boris. Having stirred up factional infighting in the Labour party, he accused Sir Keir of stirring up ‘factional infighting.’ A bit rich.
Sir Keir had more luck with the hospital-building programme which has spawned a sheet of advice for officials. This matters a lot. We were told that 40 brand new hospitals would rise from the earth under the benign will of the ‘people’s government’ (as Boris now refers to himself). But officials have been told that a ‘new hospital’ may mean a refurb of an existing one. A ‘fix up’ as Keir called it, ‘a paint job’. Quite damning. But hardly fatal.
‘You obviously don’t go around building on greenfield sites,’ said Boris.
The session then entered the time-warp known as Ian Blackford. The ticking of the clock seems to cease when he stands up. The speed of light judders to a halt. The universe itself yawns. And Blackford frequently raises the very issues that Sir has just mentioned, so he seems like a sad tribute act. He mentioned the law-breaking bash in Downing Street last year.
‘I spoke to the newspaper,’ he said threateningly. ‘And they are confirming that they’ve taken legal advice on potential illegality.’
This seems to refer to a quote in the Mirror from a law professor at Goldsmiths – it’s unlikely that the police are about to storm Number 10.
Boris asked Blackford why he hadn’t raised the victims of storm Arwen in Scotland.
‘A disgraceful answer!’ said Blackford, his jowls a-tremble. Then he sat down and suffered a full-on hissy-fit. He started barking and yelping and screaming at Boris while he answered a question on travel restrictions. Had this been a comedy club, Blackford would have been thrown out.
Boris lost his rag at the end as well. Bradford MP, Imran Hussain, delivered a masterclass in the art of race baiting. It was a blend of weepy schmaltz and aggressive mendacity. First, he invoked the memory of his saintly grandfather who arrived here 70 years ago and ‘worked in squalid conditions to help rebuild this county.’ Then he ran through a checklist of Tory atrocities including the ‘hostile environment’ and the Windrush scandal. Then he claimed that the Home Secretary has threatened to ‘revoke citizenships and deport us.’ Finally, he delved into the minds of his fellow minorities and revealed that every citizen of migrant stock lives in perpetual fear of the Prime Minister. One question, he said, burns constantly on their lips: ‘When is he coming for me?’
Boris blew his top.
‘He should look at the Conservative front bench,’ he yelled, his shoulders hunching forward, his face glowering with menace. ‘He should withdraw what he just said… shameful!’
Sir Keir must wonder why he can’t stir up the hornet’s nest like that.