PMQs: Boris looks chipper for a man on the brink

10 February 2022

2:20 AM

10 February 2022

2:20 AM

And still they try. MPs are desperate to get the Prime Minister to quit, live on TV, during PMQs. As if that’s about to happen.

Sir Starmer has spent the last week polishing his puns. The busy wordsmith has spotted that the verb ‘scrap’ may mean ‘fight’ as well as ‘abolish’. Inspired by this linguistic accident he asked the PM to stop ‘scrapping’ with his Chancellor and get on with ‘scrapping’ his new emergency energy package. Brilliant! What a barb! How Suzie Dent must have marvelled at Professor Starmer’s verbal dexterity.

But as the applause from Dictionary Corner died away, it became clear that puns count for nothing in the bear-pit of politics. Governments don’t fall because the opposition leader dazzled the electorate with a superior display of philological footwork. Perhaps Sir Keir senses his quarry heading for a place of safety, and today he affected an air of chortling superiority. He shrugged and huffed at Boris, scolding him impatiently, like a bored dog-trainer with a naughty puppy. He claimed that the PM hadn’t understood his own policy for those struggling with whopping energy bills.

‘He hasn’t got the first clue what the Chancellor signed him up to,’ laughed Sir Keir. This kind of smart-alec condescension doesn’t work. It looks complacent. Starmer is better when he channels the cold-eyed fury of an angered populace.

He offered a different solution to the energy crisis: windfall taxes on oil and gas companies who, he claimed, ‘have more money than they know what to do with.’ Boris rubbished this as an attack on energy firms that would undermine investment just when it was needed most.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown had a better idea. Let’s hold a meeting for the oil and gas bosses and ask them nicely if they’d care to flood the market with cheap fuel which will magically trigger a fall in prices (plus a drop in profits). There’s a snag with this stroke of genius: alpha-capitalists don’t volunteer to cut the value of their assets. Boris politely batted the solution away. He called it ‘interesting’ (‘nuts’) and ‘ingenious’ (‘economically illiterate’).

Fabian Hamilton stood up, with suspiciously good timing, and announced that a bombshell photograph had just emerged on the internet. The pic apparently showed Boris and his fellow hell-raisers having yet another booze-up in Downing Street on 15 December. (God, do those guys ever take a night off?). Hamilton described three killer details from the image: alcohol, food and ‘people wearing tinsel.’

Boris dismissed tinselgate. ‘In what he has just said, I’m afraid, he is completely in error.’

Another Labour MP tried to revive the bombshell and ordered the PM to refer the tinselgate bash to the cops. Boris said it had been reported already. But had it?

Ruth Jones wanted to administer a death blow by accusing Boris of inciting the hate mob that heckled Sir Keir Starmer in a Westminster street. ‘The leader of the opposition was hounded by thugs because of [the PM’s] careless, disgraceful words.’

‘Resign,’ she told Boris. (She may have added ‘repent’ as well but it wasn’t entirely audible.) Boris was prepared. ‘I don’t think she should let the thugs who bullied and harassed the Rt Hon Gent. off the hook. Because they are culpable.’

For a man on the brink, Boris looks astonishingly chipper. He’s at ease in the House, in command of his brief, and armed with a belligerent fluency that few could match. Bear in mind that he could quit politics at any time he chose to do so, and sign a deal to host a prime time TV talk show in America. No other MP is in that position. When he says he’ll be hard to shift, he means it.

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