PMQs Review: The one that was flatter than Flat Stanley
PUBLISHED: 13:51 26 February 2020 | UPDATED: 13:58 26 February 2020
The Netherlands. Cambridgeshire. Flat Stanley. The Earth (according to Andrew Flintoff). All things considerably less flat than today’s prime minister’s questions.
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It's partly Jeremy Corbyn unaccountably still being there, of course, and partly the newbie Tory MPs queueing up to humiliate themselves, their families and their constituencies to ask fawning questions of just where in the pantheon of great leaders Boris Johnson stands.
There's also Brexit, on which Johnson has inexplicably convinced enough MPs that he's got done to make his cack-handed attempts to forge a swashbuckling new trade deal in nine months essentially a non-question. It means we get specific questions about individual constituents which can be brushed off with a "I will write to the honourable lady" or specific bus services, which - yes! - are very important to people, but hardly the stuff of the great political theatre we're told the entire world envies.
Whether the forensic lawyer's questioning of Keir Starmer will help nail Johnson, whose grasp of detail is comparable to that of his colleague James Grundy's on his trousers, remains to be seen. But once again he showed how easy he is to be flustered, breaking parliamentary protocol to address Corbyn by name at the softest of balls and relying on his calls of "40 new hospitals" and "20,000 new police officers" as likely to come to fruition as his daft bridge.
Corbyn's choice of subject - the floods and Johnson's vanishing act - were fine, but he was hardly Tyson Fury in his application.
The Labour leader urged the government to "step up to the plate" and protect communities after claiming, in an odd choice of word, that Johnson had been "sulking" in his grace-and-favour mansion in Kent.
He told MPs: "You can't give local authorities the clear message you support them and then turn your back on them. Not my words, a Conservative council leader said that."
Johnson replied: "I'm very proud of the response the government has mounted over the last few days.
"We convened the National Flood Response Centre on the 14th and since the flooding began there has been a constant stream of ministerial activity led by my right honourable friends the... Secretary of State for the Environment, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government." It's a good job parliamentary procedure prevents him from naming them. The PM himself probably can't remember.
Corbyn was stronger in concluding by attacking the PM's record on responding to crises, saying: "The prime minister was keen to pose for cameras when there's a crisis on during the election but he often goes AWOL.
"He was late to respond to the London riots as he was on holiday, he was on a private island when the Iranian general was assassinated, and last week he had his head in the sand at a mansion in Kent."
Johnson accused Labour MPs of "jabbering away", adding: "The hottest topic of debate in the Labour Party is what job should [Corbyn] have in the shadow cabinet after the leadership election.
"They are engaging themselves in narcissistic debate about the Labour Party. We are getting on in delivering the people's priorities."
Leave inside the irony of Johnson accusing anybody of narcissism, it's also not fair to say that was the hottest topic of debate in the Labour Party. Just this week alone it's been if they should set up a "Tony Benn University of Political Education", introduce a new cinema club and boycott a brand of tea.
Elsewhere, there was one Brexit question, with Theresa Villiers becoming the first axed Cabinet minister since the reshuffle to emerge at PMQs. The subject? Fishing, which employs an estimated 0.00% of her Chipping Barnet constituents.
"Will the prime minister promise to resist in all circumstances the sell-out of our fishing communities so that we can ensure that on the first of January next year we take back control of our fishing waters and become an independent coastal state once again?," asked Villiers, with the enthusiasm of someone who genuinely believes her pedestrian, forgettable political career might not actually be over.
"I will indeed!," roared Johnson. Will he? You know the answer - and when he doesn't, let's hope there's someone with a bit more fizz facing him at the despatch box.
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