Lloyd Evans

PMQs: The tragedy of Richard Burgon

PMQs: The tragedy of Richard Burgon
(Image from Parliament TV)
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PMQs is sixty years old. Speaker Hoyle opened the proceedings with a reminder that the weekly cross-examinations began in July 1961.

Boris wasn’t there. Well, he was, but via Zoom. A televised shot of his head was beamed from Chequers to a flat-screen screwed to a high gallery. This was unfortunate for Sir Keir Starmer who needed to tackle the blond amplitude of Boris in person. Instead, he had to wrestle with an image, to punch at a vacancy and to skewer a shimmering square of coloured pixellations. It was like headbutting a cushion.

Sir Keir was armed with some excellent complaints about the government’s ping debacle. Millions of citizens have equipped themselves with a pocket robot that can place them under house arrest at a moment’s notice. The resulting chaos has been compounded by mixed messages from the government. Sir Keir made fun of their confused ramblings. One minister called the ping ‘advisory.’ Another suggested, ‘it is there to help you make informed decisions.’

Sir Keir did a little pantomime of amused scorn. ‘What on earth does that mean?’ He kept this up throughout, chuckling, snuffling and giggling at his commentary on Boris's self-inflicted woes. This looked rather childish and unserious.

‘Feeble stuff,’ said Boris dismissively. With a pained note in his voice, he said that he had hoped ‘this would be a glorious 60th-anniversary edition of PMQs.’He made it sound like Just A Minute.

Hopping-mad Ian Blackford got to his feet and tossed out a venomous aside about the ‘levelling up’ agenda. The Scots, he threatened, are more interested in ‘settling up’. He turned to the recently uncovered texts in which Boris refers to Covid and its tendency to target the elderly. Blackford converted this into an apocalyptic rant.

‘He said the over-80s should be sacrificed to the winds of the deadly virus. And when the NHS was facing the darkest moment in its history, he was actively pushing for the virus to run rampant through towns and cities.’

‘Run rampant’, sounded terrific in Blackford’s dramatic Scottish brogue. He could easily get a job in Hollywood publicising cheap horror movies. The only snag with his silver-tongued tirade is that no one will believe it. Boris has many faults but he’s not a murderous lunatic who wants to wage biological warfare on pensioners and cull them in their millions.

Blackford always treats the PM like a personal assistant who needs daily instructions. This afternoon he demanded that the public enquiry into Covid should begin instantly. This minute. And he drew a commitment from Boris. The enquiry will start ‘in the spring,’ we were told.

That looks clear enough. But there’s plenty of wriggle-room, of course. Boris didn’t specify the year. Perhaps he meant the spring of 2025, after the next general election.

One of Labour’s noisiest pipsqueaks, Richard Burgon, stood up and delivered a harangue pickled in malice. He complained that the PM had ‘run away to a luxury country mansion with a heated swimming pool’. How weird to discover that a socialist MP spends his time on the internet researching the amenities of a rural villa he will never occupy, or even be invited to. A bit sad as well.

The session ended with Labour backbencher, Cat Smith, complaining that a cherished pub in her area is being converted into a 10-room student block despite opposition from the community. She alleged that the decision-making powers have been transferred to Whitehall where the strings are being pulled by greedy property magnates.

Boris exploded. ‘I’ve never heard such total cobblers in all my life.’

On Just A Minute, that would have been cut.