The bombshell at bay. That’s how Boris looked at today’s PMQs. Deflated, cornered, winded and lifeless. Gone were the chuckles and the mischievous jests, the punning quips and the poetic asides. He kicked off with a scripted apology that had two objectives: to neutralise public fury and to wrong-foot Sir Keir Starmer.
It did neither. Last night, footage emerged of Downing Street staff at a mock Q&A session making jokes about parties at No. 10 during lockdown. ‘I was also furious to see that clip,’ said Boris, as if suggesting that he was angrier than the angriest person in the country. He expressed his sorrow but couched it with lawyerly care. ‘I apologise for the impression that it gives,’ he said, dodging any admission of wrong-doing. Not exactly helpful to his cause.
The cabinet secretary has been asked to investigate the allegations. ‘If rules were broken,’ he said morosely, ‘there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.’ Even this probe is a lose-lose situation, as he knows. The best outcome — ‘not guilty’ — will be dismissed as a cover-up. He boasted, rather pathetically, that a copy of the report will be placed in the Commons library. As if letting MPs read the verdict was proof of his good character.
The SNP’s Ian Blackford cranked his amps up to the max and ordered Boris to ‘resign’ on the spot. That will make a few headlines but it leaves Blackford with no opportunity to increase the volume.
Sir Keir played it just right, with a blend of indignation and disbelief. The scandal has turned one of his great failings — his excessive pride in his legal career — into a strength. Speaking as a former prosecutor, he revealed that magistrates at Westminster are currently trying suspects over lockdown breaches alleged to have occurred 12 months ago. He offered Boris some advice: ‘Hand over everything the government knows about parties in Downing Street to the Met.’
‘Of course,’ said Boris. What a moment. The Labour leader had effectively asked the Prime Minister to report himself to the police. And the PM said, 'yes'.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, MP for Tooting, was working in intensive care during lockdown. She recalls weeping behind her mask as she watched an online call between three children and their mother who had fallen unconscious. They were begging and pleading with her to wake up.
Meanwhile in Downing Street the good times rolled…
It's hard to see how a politician can survive a scandal of this type. Government staff carousing while old folks die unhugged by their nearest kin. And how many bashes were thrown by the hellraisers in Downing Street? Catherine West brought up the possibility of an earlier party on 13 November.
Boris droned out his reply, sounding like the voicemail robot. ‘Whatever happened I’m sure the guidance was followed and the rules were observed at all times.’ Men sound cheerier dictating their wills. And the savaging wasn’t over.
Tory disloyalist, William Wragg, called today’s new Covid announcements a ‘diversionary tactic’ by the government. That prompted theatrical gasps and oh-my-Gods from the Labour benches. This is the nadir of Boris’s career. And of his life so far, of course, since his existence is indivisible from his political destiny. It would be ironic if the merriest and most hedonistic statesman of recent times were to be brought low by excessive conviviality.