“Why under this Government have rape convictions fallen to a record low?”
Sir Keir Starmer’s first question was short, and made Boris Johnson’s answer sound evasive.
For a time, Sir Keir maintained almost that level of brevity, and Johnson struggled to recover.
The Prime Minister could not explain why 98.4 per cent of rape cases end without anyone being charged, and was prevailed upon to say of the victims, “I’m sorry for the trauma they have been through.”
But we have not yet witnessed an occasion where the Leader of the Opposition has followed up a promising start and scored an overwhelming triumph.
Sir Keir at length yielded in the course of his six questions to the temptation to use more words, and Johnson found salvation in a soundbite which had nothing to do with rape convictions: “They jabber, we jab. They dither, we decide.”
The urge to stop Johnson having things all his own way was seen in the Chesham and Amersham byelection, and can also be detected in the Commons.
He must not be allowed to become a new Bonaparte: the British tradition of liberty, and indeed of equality, demands that at frequent intervals he be brought low.
Part of the point of PMQs is that he is exposed to danger. In the Commons, things can go wrong in the twinkling of an eye.
But no one today asked a question which was short and sharp enough to cause Johnson as much discomfort as Sir Keir had managed in those opening moments.