Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: This canine Prime Minister bounded all over Starmer

8 Sep

Boris Johnson behaved today with greater than usual irrepressibility. He was like a strong, shaggy, affectionate, over-grown young dog, who is never happier than when bounding into your lap, getting hair all over your clothes and sweeping the tea cups off the table with his tail.

This canine Prime Minister supposes everyone will be pleased to see him, and will be cheered by his clever tricks. He loves to jump into a muddy pond, jump straight out again and shake himself all over the nearest people on the bank, to the amusement of those who, slightly further away, manage to remain dry.

Who will teach this beast some manners? Who will train him to walk at heel?

A long line of decent and determined people, including Michael Howard, David Cameron and Theresa May, have attempted to discipline him.

Howard sacked him, Cameron told him to run off and become Mayor of London and May locked him up in the Foreign Office, but none of these solutions lasted.

This week, Sir Keir Starmer has been trying to teach Johnson that breaking the rules, or in this case the Conservative manifesto, simply will not do.

But this is quite a tricky message to get across, for it is an act that distresses Conservatives more than it upsets Labour voters, who may even be quite pleased.

Sir Keir asked whether the guarantee “that nobody needing care has to sell their home to pay for it” still stands.

Johnson didn’t get where he is today by allowing himself to be pinned down by a question like that. He declared with a tremendous air of conviction that the plan for health and social care removes the fear “faced by millions of people…that they would face the loss of their home, their possessions, their ability to pass on anything”.

And he carried the attack to Sir Keir: “What is he going to do tonight? Silence from mission control.”

No silence in the House of Commons: how good it is to hear some noise, some audience participation, after the tepid exchanges conducted via video screen during the pandemic.

The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, intervened to restore order and issue a reminder: “I know the House has been away but it’s still Prime Minister’s Questions.”

In other words, Johnson should answer the questions, not ask them.

“His plan is to impose an unfair tax on working people,” Sir Keir said. “My plan is to ensure those with the broadest shoulders pay their fair share.”

Johnson wasn’t having that, and lobbed back some statistics approved by the Institute for Fiscal Studies: “The top 20 per cent of households by income will pay 40 times what the poorest 20 per cent pay.”

Sir Keir cited the sad case of Rosie and asked the jeering Tories, “What does the laughter say to Rosie?”

“I have every sympathy for Rosie,” Johnson replied, before launching into a riff about the inestimable benefits of “a strong and dynamic economy”, with Britain as “the fastest growing economy in the G7”, which it certainly wouldn’t be under Labour.

We found ourselves watching a contest between optimism and pessimism. Animal spirits took on puritanical prudence, and won.