Starmer knows that Boris is safe – for now

3 February 2022

2:19 AM

3 February 2022

2:19 AM

Calm returned to the bridge. Big Dog looked comfortable in the chamber as Sir Keir Starmer quizzed him at PMQs. It started with an exchange of fireworks.

Sir Keir made a statement about Boris’s suggestion that he failed to bring Jimmy Savile to justice when he was director of public prosecutions. He called this slur ‘a conspiracy theory of violent fascists’. Strong stuff.

In reply, Boris quoted Sir Keir’s statement in 2013 which appeared to apologise for oversights in relation to Savile. However – and this is the point – Sir Keir didn’t follow it up.

The mortal blow has failed to land as yet. More delays will play into Boris’s hands. The longer Plod takes to issue any fines, the more trivial the law-breaking will seem. Should a sitting PM be forced to quit for spending an evening at home with his wife and child? History will boggle at such a trivial sin.

So the house reverted to its everyday bun-fight. Sir Keir berated the PM for falsely posing as a tax cutter in a Sunday Times article. Last Sunday? That’s half a week ago. Boris’s position hasn’t deteriorated for three whole days. Good going for him.

Boris replied by boasting about falling unemployment and increased economic activity. ‘Lots of bluster. No answers,’ replied Sir Keir. ‘A word of warning, Prime Minister. That’s not going to work with the police.’

This teasing quip was greeted by smirks all round. Sir Keir can sense that Boris is temporarily safe. Tame Tory backbenchers asked him easy-peasy questions about train timetables and new power stations. Desmond Swayne, who dresses like the chief suspect in an Edwardian murder mystery, brought up Ukraine. ‘Will he brief us on his visit?’ he asked politely.

According to Boris’s account, only Boris can save Ukraine from the 125,000 hostile Russian troops currently massing on its weak and ill-defended borders. He is, we are assured, straining every nerve to assemble a devastating western alliance that will humble Putin by refusing to sell things to Russia for a bit. Let’s hope that works.

There are three leading pantomime dames in this standoff, Boris, Putin and Biden. All face significant problems at home which an international crisis will conceal. Perhaps it’s all a big bluff to make us look the other way. Ian Blackford of the SNP asked if the PM went to a party in his own flat on 13 November 2020. This referred to Carrie’s Good Riddance Bash on the day Dominic Cummings quit Downing Street. ‘Here we go again,’ said Boris, glibly.

‘A disgraceful response,’ quivered Blackford. He pointed to the faces of Tory backbenchers behind him. ‘Read the runes,’ he threatened.

Perhaps Blackford should read the runes. Boris’s downfall will trigger a power struggle in the party, an unwanted general election and the possibility of a Labour government propped up by their sworn enemies, the SNP. Not many Tories hate Boris enough to risk that.

Others asked about the November knees-up in 2020. Angela Eagle wondered if a man who needs a police investigation to help him find out if he went to a party in his own home is fit to handle the nuclear codes. Abena Oppong-Asare raised the fine itself. ‘If the Prime Minister receives a fixed penalty notice will he inform house and will he resign?’

The question looked innocuous. But Boris’s answer was as slippery as a bar of wet soap. He dodged the issue and said: ‘Of course I will comply with the law.’

So he’ll pay up and try to keep it out of the headlines. As for resigning, don’t ask. Look the other way. If Labour has any sense they’ll return to this half-answer next week.

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