“Can you hear me, Mr Speaker?” the Prime Minister inquired after something went wrong with the transmission of his rather diffuse observations from Buckinghamshire. “Do you want me to repeat that answer again?”
“Just the end bit,” the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, replied.
That was the right direction, but seemed not to reach Boris Johnson, who was addressing a camera in Chequers, and was not always audible in the Chamber, though we could hear him well enough on television.
He did not look well. His forehead, or what we could discern of it through his dishevelled hair, looked pink with undertones of yellowish bruising.
One might have been looking at a hostage, who was putting as brave a face as he could on his predicament. Self-isolation does not suit him.
But his voice was robust enough, as he repeated pretty much the whole of his answer.
Sir Keir Starmer, present in the Commons Chamber, asked another long-winded question, dragging in various bits of embarrassing material supplied by Dominic Cummings, and by ministers who have given contradictory advice about the current rules for dealing with the pandemic.
This was over-egging it. If only Sir Keir could have prevailed on himself to offer just one piece of embarrassing evidence, the determination of the Prisoner of Chequers to evade the question would have been more obvious.
Ian Blackford, for the SNP, following Cummings, accused the PM of wanting to sacrifice the over-80s.
Johnson replied that this was a gross mischaracterisation of the exchanges which had taken place.
A succession of backbenchers asked mostly local questions, about the hospital, the pub, the school, the railway, the canal, and Johnson in benevolent monarch mode offered a judicious word of encouragement to each of them.
This session, the last before the Summer Recess, lasted 50 minutes, which was 20 minutes longer than it should have done. Sir Lindsay’s request for “shortish questions and answers” had not been met, and after he observed that this was the 60th anniversary edition of PMQs, one could only reflect that it is just now like one of those Radio Four programmes which has become a shadow of its former self.