Lloyd Evans

Why can’t Starmer make blundering Boris pay?

Why can't Starmer make blundering Boris pay?
Boris Johnson at PMQs (Parliament TV)
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That looked pretty weird. The self-isolating PM attended parliament today from a remote location. His advisers had blundered badly. They might have created a warm, friendly look by seating Boris in a big leather armchair, lit by honey-coloured lamps, and surrounded by portraits of his latest children. Instead they’d emptied out a cubby-hole in a Downing Street attic and stuck him at a desk in a grey suit. He looked like a drug lord being quizzed in a Heathrow interview booth.

It’s been a typical week for the PM. He’s lost two key advisers and let a rumour spread that his fiancée is running the country. As well as trying hard to undermine the loyalty of his backbenchers, he has called Scottish devolution ‘a disaster’ – a remark that may accelerate the United Kingdom’s destruction. So nothing special. Sir Keir Starmer had lots of problems to choose from and, as usual, he tried to cram everything in. And none of it stuck.

He asked about the devolution gaffe, about hardship among the self-employed, about the payment of millions to an NHS middle-man and about Boris’s habit of giving contracts to people with chums in government. Boris shrugged it off by waving his immunity certificate. ‘It’s a global pandemic,’ he said, as if that might get him off the hook.

Starmer-watchers are flummoxed. With Boris so exposed, why does the Labour leader fail to vanquish him each week? Sir Keir is a victim of his towering reputation. His advisers lack the courage to tell him to vary his tactics. Rather than covering the full range of Boris’s blunders he should focus on one issue and devote all six questions to its exposure. That way he might capture his greased and wriggling quarry.

Sir Graham Brady asked about 2 December, ‘when we come out of the lockdown’. Boris declined to use the L-word and relied on the formula, ‘as we come out of the current measures on 2nd December.’ It sounds like house-arrest will continue for millions.

Labour’s Ian Byrne delivered a tortuous essay in logic. He quoted a professor at a Liverpool hospital who said, ‘the environment a child develops in, even before being born, can affect its DNA detrimentally by 10 per cent’. What did that mean? Byrne explained that a child will suffer if its environment involves food poverty. His solution is to enshrine ‘the right to food’ in law. Ultimately this could mean the nationalisation of agriculture which will lead to food shortages and an end to obesity. Maybe we should give it a shot.

Damian Collins called on Boris to remove ‘vaccine disinformation and conspiracy theories’ from social media. The PM seemed horribly keen to add this form of censorship to his Online Harms bill. The question is, who will decide what is a ‘harm’? Answer: a civil servant appointed to kill free speech. Censoring scientific debate is chilling.

It was good to hear Christopher Chope quoting a piece in the British Medical Journal which suggested that survivors of Covid are immune for six months. This sounded like a major breakthrough. Three cheers for the BMJ. Crack open the champers!

But no. Boris was speaking. ‘Thanks for his well-made suggestion,’ he said, ‘but there’s evidence both ways on that.’ Oh well. The BMJ will probably fall foul of the Online Harms bill.

Written byLloyd Evans

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

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