At PMQs Sir Keir Starmer led on the tricky subject of rape. He cornered the PM with a precisely worded four-part question about the fact that 98 per cent of reported rapes don’t lead to criminal charges. The PM countered that Labour had recently voted against a bill that toughened up sentences for violent sexual offenders. Sir Keir had war-gamed this in advance. And how he pounced.
‘What provision, what clause, what chapter or what words of that bill will do anything to change the fact that 98.4 per cent of reported rapes don’t end up in a charge?’
Without hesitation, Boris said, ‘Section 106 and 107 of that bill would have stopped the early release of rapists.’
Sir Keir was aghast. ‘What an appalling answer!’ He’d asked about charges and Boris had answered about sentences. But alas, appearances are everything. And the PM appeared to have given a prompt and salient reply.
Ian Blackford raised corruption in the cabinet. He spoke with quiet menace like a Victorian judge about to send a quivering defendant to the gallows. ‘Official documents submitted to the High Court’, he said, showed that half a million pounds had been ‘secretly directed’ by Tory ministers to conduct constitutional polls, ‘in the middle of a pandemic’. It sounded serious. Blackford made it sound deadly.
‘The Prime Minister would be well advised to be very careful in his answer to this question,’ he added ominously.
What a moment. The lie detector was on. The sweat-sensitive electrodes were attached to Boris’s fingertips. Every eye in the House gleamed with suspicion as the soon-to-resign Prime Minister got to his feet.
‘Mr Speaker, I’m not aware of the contract to which the Rt. Hon. gentleman refers. But I can tell him that the benefits of the Union have been incalculable throughout the pandemic.’
That was his defence. Sorry, guvnor. Missed the paperwork. Not my signature. Anything else I can help you with?
Blackford was taken aback. He said Boris’s answer proved that, ‘he hasn’t got a clue'. And he ended his speech by calling for a 'full public inquiry’. That was that. A lame finish after the furious magnificence of his opening.
Esther McVey raised HS2 and reminded us that the super-duper train line was initially supposed to cost £35.5 billion. The latest costings — which rose by another million as she was speaking — stands at £150 billion. An American will have landed on Mars before the first Brummie reaches London on HS2. And the trip to Mars will have been cheaper. McVey begged Boris to ‘put it out of its misery.’
The PM adores daft transport projects. His idea of fun is to pore over blueprints drawn up by half-mad technocrats. Bridges made of flowers. Airports in river estuaries. Road-tunnels under ammunition dumps. His main concern about HS2 is that it’s not silly enough. If they added a loop-the-loop section near Coventry he might get interested
‘It has the potential to do a massive amount of good,’ he said feebly. For him, HS2 is all about exposing Lib Dem flip-floppery.
Sir Ed Davey’s party supports HS2 nationally but fights against it locally. Which is like opposing capital punishment except for people on death row. Yet these posturings work at the ballot box and seem to have delivered the Lib Dems a thumping victory at last week’s Buckinghamshire by-election.
Lib Dem hypocrisy was the only thing that got Boris worked up today. ‘They vote for one thing,’ he yelled, his blood pressure rising visibly, ‘and they say another'.
This was interesting. Boris feels more threatened by Sir Ed than Sir Keir.