IT might be because there isn’t much to do at the moment. Or maybe lockdown has just lowered my expectations. Something is afoot, because for the first time in a long while, I’m finding Prime Minister’s Questions to be must-watch viewing.
Keir Starmer has made the weekly session interesting again. Much has been made of his “forensic” questioning of Boris Johnson and, as you would expect from somebody with his legal background, he certainly does that very well. For me,
what is far more notable is his poise. Johnson’s bully-boy tactics don’t work on Starmer. He is totally unfazed by Johnson’s red-faced rants. It’s not surprising when you think about it, he has probably been yelled at by far more intimidating figures than our costume-party Prime Minister.
Starmer’s understated PMQs performances are Johnson’s worst nightmare. The Tory leader is far more comfortable in an adversarial debate than he is under calm and reasonable questioning. The former allows him to roll around in the mud, as is his preference, while the latter highlights his scant grasp of detail.
We are seeing bluff versus brains. Johnson’s temper tantrums are damaging what little credibility he has left. Even, I suspect, among his own colleagues.
During Wednesday’s session, having been summoned back to the chamber for the sole purpose of cheering him on, Tory backbenchers were subdued. And how could they not be? It would have been difficult to muster an enthusiastic “HEAR HEAR!” while
they watched their leader unravel even before Keir Starmer got on to the hard questions. In ordinary times, against a different leader of the opposition, Johnson’s aggression might have been effective. Among the faithful, it might even have been perceived as strength. In this moment, it simply highlights how out of his depth he is and how unwilling he is to put the work in to be better.
Boris Johnson’s supposed intellect makes him a mildly amusing dinner party guest in certain circles. He takes great delight in the performance – and plaudits – that come with reciting a few lines of Latin poetry or quoting a Greek philosopher. He uses daft phrases like “great supine protoplasmic invertebrate jellies” when saying “spineless” or simply pointing at himself would get his point across more concisely.
But when it comes to the boring stuff, the hard graft that comes with overseeing policy during an emergency, he’d rather wing it when he can and shout and scream when he can’t.
During his disastrous liaison committee outing last week, it quickly became clear why Johnson had dodged all the previous requests for him to attend. Watching him struggle to answer the most basic of questions – including on his party’s own policies – many minds would have wandered to the alternative.
Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party is still in its infancy. His party have a long slog ahead to become electable in England again. In Scotland, it will take a miracle as well as competent leadership before they are back in with a fighting chance.
THERE is no doubt whatsoever that Starmer could have got through a committee session like that without embarrassing himself as Johnson did. A low bar, but an important one when we consider Boris Johnson’s waning support since the General Election in December.
His emphatic victory came during a time of political fatigue. He promised to “Get Brexit Done” and, aided by the uselessness of Jeremy Corbyn, he succeeded.
How quickly things have changed. Our sloganeering Prime Minister can’t even get those right these days. Having spent his life climbing the greasy pole, Johnson gives the impression that he is dissatisfied with the view from the top. With a whopping 80-seat majority, his premiership was in solid ground back in December. Now it looks far less secure.
The dissent from his MPs over his handling of the Dominic Cummings scandal may not have had an impact on the fate of the rule-breaking political adviser, but it burned through much of Johnson’s political capital.
In calling for Cummings’s resignation, many Conservative MPs said they had received more emails from their constituents on this issue than they had ever had on any other.
In standing by his man, the Prime Minister unleashed a torrent of anger against his own MPs. They won’t forget that in a hurry. The dramatic fall in his own approval ratings – as well at the plummeting poll ratings of his party – showed that Brand Boris is not immune to events.
During the most serious crisis we have faced, we are being led by a completely unserious Prime Minister. It is vital that opposition parties are constructive where possible and have credibility with the public.
Boris Johnson’s anger at Starmer during PMQs shows that he takes the new Labour leader seriously. He found it easy to sneer and laugh at an opponent like Jeremy Corbyn. Against Starmer, Johnson struggles even to hold his temper.
Keir Starmer doesn’t need to be bigger or brasher than the Prime Minister, he just needs to look like the adult in the room. Compared with this tantrumming Tory-in-chief – that’s exactly what he is.