Lloyd Evans

Starmer was firing blanks at PMQs

Starmer was firing blanks at PMQs
Starmer at today's PMQs (Parliament TV)
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It was another ‘worst week ever’ for Boris. The highlight being his successful bid to make mincemeat of himself by garbling his own lockdown rules at a press conference. At PMQs, he presented an open target and the Labour leader struck early with a highly specific question: Why has Luton emerged from lockdown when other communities haven’t?

‘They’ve pulled together to depress the virus,’ said Boris, sounding tentatively jubilant.

Everyone awaited the springing of the booby-trap. But it didn’t come. Luton was an irrelevance. It was a bait without a hook. Sir Keir was firing blanks. He left Boris free to complain that the Labour party was behaving like a faithless ally, sometimes marching with the government and sometimes ‘sniping from the side-lines.’

Sir Keir’s failure to nail his quarry today is the low-point of his leadership so far. Ian Blackford helped out too. Blackford’s difficulty is that he can’t see that he’s the difficulty. He’s so desperate to pose as a folk-hero for Scottish viewers that he forgets he’s in the middle of London. And he always gives the impression that he spent a busy morning practising in front of a mirror, wearing a toga. Today he arrived at the House with a ‘turning-point-in-history’ speech which contrasted his principled eloquence with the ‘yapping, mumbling and bumbling’ of the Prime Minister.

But there was a snag. Boris didn’t yap or bumble. He explained with calm fluency that he wants to open up Scottish agriculture to world markets and he added that the US ban on British beef imports has been lifted. Blackford should have ditched the ‘yapping, bumbling, mumbling’ line. But he delivered it all the same, to general bafflement. No wonder Boris can’t stop smirking whenever Blackford gets to his feet.

Numerous backbenchers had a go at Boris and all of them got drenched in his platitudinous syrup. Debbie Abrahams asked the PM to select his worst Covid cock-up. The lockdown that came too late? The protective suits that didn’t fit? Or the test-and-trace gizmo that didn’t work?

Boris: I’m grateful for what she says and there will be plenty of time to go over all the decisions the government has made.

Liz Saville Roberts raised the absurdity of Wales’s quarantine rules. England is closed to the Welsh, she complained, while Wales is open to the English.

Boris: Yes, there will be some differences and some seeming illogicalities which are inevitable in tackling a pandemic.

Rob Butler had a go. The community of Wendover is being menaced by the government’s whizzy new train-set, HS2. A tunnel could save it but no tunnel is planned.

Boris serenaded him with arch ambiguities. ‘As a local MP I feel his pain,’ he said. And yet ‘as Prime Minister I totally support linking up the country.’ So it’s all over for Wendover.

Jerome Mayhew begged the PM to widen the ‘notoriously dangerous’ road from Norwich to Great Yarmouth – initially mooted three decades ago – and which won’t now be started until 2030. The upgrade will arrive 40 years late.

Boris: I appreciate the temporary disappointment he is experiencing.

How does he get away with this? Opposition MPs may have convinced themselves that Boris is such a shambling oaf that his defeat is inevitable and that they needn’t try too hard to topple him. A dangerous assumption.

Now listen to Coffee House Shots. Katy Balls speaks to James Forsyth about whether the government's local lockdown strategy is working.

Written byLloyd Evans

Lloyd Evans is The Spectator's sketch-writer and theatre critic

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