On Monday Boris Johnson was singing the praises of “good old-fashioned British common sense”. A higher order of common sense than French or German common sense, naturally. So it’s unfortunate that this is the very quality he seems to singularly lack. Because you’d have thought the one thing Boris might have learned from his first time up against Keir Starmer at prime minister’s questions last week was that it would be a help to come properly prepared.
But Boris has never done preparation for anything. It’s not in his nature. Preparation is for girly swots. He is a tabula rasa who treats every day as a new beginning. One free from the consequences of any past actions. He is the macho blagger who has always been able to wing it, fuelled by a few gags and some hasty last-minute revision. Something that might have been good enough, when backed up by a full chamber of braying Tory MPs, to see off Jeremy Corbyn, but that is proving hopelessly inadequate against a top QC in a near-silent courtroom. Things are now so bad that every time Boris opens his mouth, he only encourages the jury to convict him and the judge to increase his sentence.Advertisement
It’s also possible that Starmer has made the same mistake as many people in severely overestimating Boris’s intelligence. That the long words and the Latin phrases simply cover up the fact the prime minister isn’t particularly bright: after all, it takes a very special type of cleverness to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. But then old habits die hard for the leader of the opposition too. He has learned from his time at the bar that there’s no such thing as having too much evidence against a defendant, so he was taking nothing for granted by coming to the Commons somewhat over-prepared.
Give it time and Boris may well cut to the chase and just plead guilty in advance to save him the torture of answering six questions, but we’re not there yet, so Starmer opened his folder and asked the court to consider Exhibit A. Care homes. Was it not true that the government had been far too slow to act to protect the most vulnerable members of society? Absolutely not, Boris insisted. No country had done more to protect the elderly. What better protection could anyone get than being killed?
Hmm. That was weird, Starmer said, because in Exhibit B he had a surgeon quoted in the Daily Telegraph – citing the newspaper that up till now had been only too happy to print any old rubbish the prime minister writes was a cruel twist of the knife – saying that the government hadn’t changed its advice on releasing untested patients into care homes until mid-March.
That’s not just true, Boris blustered, sounding guiltier by the second. Even though it was true. Though to accuse the prime minister of lying is to commit a philosophical category error. As Boris has no clue what advice his government has and hasn’t given, he can’t knowingly be untruthful. Nor, given his career track record, show any signs of being able to differentiate between truth and lies. Rather he just recites the answer that he wants to be true and hopes to make it so by willpower alone. And to be fair, it’s a tactic that’s worked often enough in the past.
Starmer moved on to the Office for National Statistics figures for deaths in care homes. Their report suggested there had been an excess death figure of 18,000 people, yet the government was certain that only 8,000 of them had died of the coronavirus. So what did he think the other 10,000 had died of? Boris shrugged. It was a huge mystery. Perhaps some were dying of happiness. Or of over-exertion in the gym during lockdown? Or perhaps they were dying of disappointment that the UK still had not technically left the EU?
“I’m baffled,” said Starmer. Baffled is QC speak for ‘Now I’ve got you nailed, you filthy lying toerag’. Baffled that the government had stopped using the international death rate comparison at the Downing Street press conference, having done so continuously for the past seven weeks.
Boris blustered yet again. It turns out that a prime minister who was supposed to be such a great communicator can now barely talk in joined-up sentences. He has regressed to the pre-verbal stage. “Um … er … ah,” he mumbled.
There was little left of the prime minister but a sodden mess by the time Keir had finished with him, though the SNP’s Ian Blackford was happy to make a few ripples of his own in the pool of blubbery sweat previously known as Boris. All that Johnson could say in his defence was that his was a roadmap of consensus – the consensus being that he hadn’t bothered to consult Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It appears he was surprised to learn there were so many people in London who needed to use public transport.
In other times it might have been uplifting for the opposition benches to see the prime minister so comprehensively dismantled. But there was little cheering or a sense of satisfaction, because in a time of crisis you rather hope the country would have a leader in whom you could believe. Someone you could trust to make at least some of the right decisions. But we have Boris. Incompetent, unprepared, selfish, lazy, amoral, and just not that bright. And no matter how many times Starmer batters him with an indefensible charge sheet at PMQs, Boris will remain prime minister for the duration.https://www.theguardian.com/