When Sir Keir Starmer took over as Labour leader, a major prize was thought to be the prospect of Starmer dissecting Boris Johnson at the despatch box every Wednesday at noon during Prime Minister’s Questions. Millions looked forward to it, and Johnson himself seemed adrift without the beying mob behind him, whose presence was reduced due to the pandemic. Starmer proved clear, precise and forensic in his questioning. Any normal human would have been reduced to jelly by his interrogations. Sadly though it appears a jelly is magically elevated to human by the same questioning.
There are two major problems with Prime Minister’s Questions:
- The speaker does not care whether or not the Prime Minister answers the questions.
- The Prime Minister does not care whether or not he answers the questions.
A more accurate description of this weekly pantomime would be Prime Minister’s Refusal To Answer Questions, because that’s basically what it is. Ask him a specific question about job losses, and his response will be a random collection of words that leaves you baffled at best, or furious with indignation at worst.
Boris Johnson's mind is a magic roundabout.
Boris Johnson’s mind is a magic roundabout with words and slogans drifting past on a carousel. If you’re lucky the ones that come out could be vaguely relevant to the conversation you’re attempting to have, but more likely you’ll get something incomprehensible or about as relevant as his shopping list.
Questions like daggers, are absorbed like knives into lard.
PMQ’s, as it’s unaffectionately known, is a bad time for the magic roundabout mind. Those of us who looked forward to it with some glee when Starmer took the opposition reins, are by now growing weary of the impossibility of his task. Questions like daggers, are absorbed like knives into lard. One likens it to asking a donkey where the farmer went. You are going to get, at best, strange grunting noises in response, but more likely it will flat out ignore you and wander off to roger another donkey.
These weekly mockeries of debate are mounting up, though. The pressure, just sometimes, shows. The occasional confused, baffled, gormless look upon Johnson’s face does little to convince of his suitability to the role, nor do his answers. There was a time that his 80 seat majority insulated him from ridicule, but there’s a sense now that this is wearing thin. Even his predecessor, Theresa May, has openly scathed him in the press, while his home secretary Priti Patel has confessed to disagreeing with border-opening decisions during the pandemic.
Only the clouds of Covid-19 are shielding Johnson from the heat of the Brexit sun.
When the humiliation of PMQ’s is joined by the confused attempts at public address and the shambolic press conferences, where he seems invariably dwarfed in intellect by those flanking him, one has to wonder: Is his leadership already dead? Are vultures quietly circling for his political carcass? Only the clouds of Covid-19 are shielding Johnson from the heat of the Brexit sun. And both issues have the potential to destroy him, eventually.
If I were to guess, I would say the chances of Johnson leading the Conservative Party into another election are getting closer to zero every day. He’s a liability, and they all know it. But he’s their scapegoat, and one they can afford, for now, thanks to that comfortable majority. But as history shows, majorities can be wiped out.
Watch his back benchers. Even their facemasks can't hide their lack of genuine support.
So where is the optimisim, the hope that any of this will get better? Is there any way this emperor with no clothes will be held to account in parliament? Well, just watch Prime Minister’s Questions next time, but don’t watch Johnson. Watch his back benchers. Even their facemasks can’t hide their lack of genuine support. Patience will run thin, and they’ll want a leader who doesn’t embarass them; sooner, rather than later.