He was winging it. Definitely. The PM almost certainly spent half the night watching the electoral quagmire in America. And at today’s PMQs he seemed flaccid and repetitive, full of diverting orotundities. Usually, he readies himself with facts and figures to spew out. But he’d done no homework, and he committed an unforced blunder from the off.
Sir Keir Starmer blamed him for not imposing a national lockdown earlier. The circuit-breaker had first been proposed on 21 September when just 11 Covid deaths were reported in a single day. The latest total, from Monday, was 397. Sir Keir called this ‘a staggering 35-fold increase.’
Boris defended himself: ‘The regional approach was actually showing signs of working,’ he said. ‘It did get the R down lower than it otherwise would have been.’
What? The flexible lockdown had proved its worth. So why put the nation under house-arrest from midnight tonight? Sir Keir, the courtroom genius, failed to spot this contradiction from the witness-stand. Instead of exposing the blunder, he pursed a ‘toldya so’ routine and claimed that his three-week lockdown would have outperformed Boris’s four-week version. What a strange contest. Both leaders vying for the title of nastiest jailer in the land.
Sir Keir asked about the national release date. Will we be liberated after 2 December?
‘I can answer him very simply,’ flannelled Boris, ‘as I informed him repeatedly on Monday. These measures will expire automatically on 2 December'. He added, ‘We will then, I hope very much, be able to get this country going again.’ He sounded like an equivocal suitor proposing to a girl he hoped would reject him.
Sir Keir pressed him on the date.
‘It will be up to the House of Commons to decide thereafter what to do,’ breezed Boris. He didn’t seem remotely troubled when the Labour leader pushed him on this again.
‘I just want some basic honestly’, tinkled Sir Keir like an angry wind-chime.
Boris paused for a moment and switched on his sub-Churchillian autocue: ‘We need to come together as a nation, briefly if we can, and put aside party political point-scoring.’
Boris’s big majority has made him complacent. He talks about the House of Commons as if it were some vital and autonomous engine of reform. But the House, as presently configured, has more slouching dead-weights in it than a zombie movie. Boris’s team of brainwashed zealots would support a bill requiring every British male to have an identical haircut if they were told to do so. And Sir Keir, who isn’t just risk-averse but power-shy as well, hasn’t the wit to outsmart him.
Boris gets additional help each week from Ian Blackford of the SNP. The MP for Skye is so hopping mad that he can’t think properly. If he won the Nobel Prize he’d say it was too little too late. Today he asked Boris to enlarge on a pledge made last Monday about the national furlough scheme. Boris duly repeated the promise. But that wasn’t good enough. Blackford wanted the policy spelt out in writing, and he ordered the Prime Minister to ‘commit to confirming’ that he would send a letter to the Scottish parliament today. He didn’t say what colour ink should be used but he’d he run out of questions.
Blackford seems unaware that he’s one of the PM’s feeblest interrogators. He doesn’t cross-examine Boris, he merely entertains him.