This time last year, Boris Johnson entered summer vacation with the heavy swagger of a conquering prizefighter.
In his first appearance in the Commons as Prime Minister, he struck Jeremy Corbyn through the ropes. Merge. Banjaxed. Jezza looked so drunk it was a pity he didn’t need to smell the salts.
Boris seldom emerges so flawless these days. In Sir Keir Starmer, he faces a more skillful performer.
Their final PMQs through September yesterday ended up being a decent end of quarter junk: a good ol ‘back and forth through the shipping box. In the end, the two will have waltzed for the reasonably happy vacation.
Sir Keir kicked off the session by announcing that under his leadership ‘national security will be Labor’s top priority’. You would think that could be the priority of any political party – until you consider the affection Starmer’s predecessor had for the bearded mullahs of Iran.
He began by asking questions about the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russia, which criticized the government’s negligence in the face of possible electoral interference. Why, Starmer asked, had such a vital report sat for nine months in Downing Street?
The latest PMQs until September yesterday saw Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured) dismantle opposition leader Kier Starmer over national security and the Russia report
The Prime Minister was not going to be left behind when it comes to security, especially not by Labor. Reputations, after all, aren’t easily knocked out. You don’t just throw them away like a boa constrictor squirms on old skin.
Boris brought up the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury. Remember when Corbyn refused to condemn Vladimir Putin?
Sir Keir “sat on his hands” and did nothing while the Labor Party “took back the lines of the Kremlin”.
Starmer’s lips were pounding and trembling with indignation. Not true! He had condemned the Salisbury bombings. He would even – gasp! – supported Theresa May on the issue at the time.
In addition, as Director of Public Prosecutions, he had in fact sued Russia for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
“Do your homework, Borrrrris! someone heckled from the opposition benches. Deputy Chief Angela Rayner, I think. Someone with the impressive Mrs. Rayner stamp anyway.
A din developed as each party took turns changing their security credentials. It was good sport. Starmer continued to insist on the delay in the report. Why had the PM been so slow to deliver it?
Boris again ignored the question. He claimed that Starmer’s obsession with the report was due to pressure from the “Islington remnants” who still could not accept the result of the EU referendum. The old guys against the elite card again.
Starmer let out one of his long, tired sighs. As a lawyer, he is used to seeing his fields of investigation treated with respect. Here, his well-structured and sensible questions collide with pre-prepared gags and insulting ya-boos.
As a lawyer, Starmer (top photo) is used to having his fields of investigation treated with respect. Here, his well-structured and sensible questions collide with pre-prepared gags and insulting, writes Deedes.
The workers’ benches began to show their frustration. “Garbage,” Ben Bradshaw (Lab, Exeter) continued to shout. Mr. Bradshaw, incidentally, made a habit of wearing a leopard skin face mask in the room.
The PM regurgitated his claim that Starmer is changing his mind from day to day. “The Leader of the Opposition has more about-face than Bournemouth Beach,” he said.
Starmer, finally, had prepared for this attack.
“This from the former columnist who wrote two versions of each article! He replied – a reference to the two articles Johnson wrote for and against EU membership as he wondered which side to support the referendum on.
It was a half-decent replica, but Starmer almost reluctantly delivered it.
He took no pleasure in being transported to the arena of Boris’ circus. He looked almost ashamed, as an ambitious student would after being persuaded to take part in a silly drinking game in the union when he far preferred to have intellectual discussions in the hallways.
The best moment for the Labor leader came when Boris reminded the House of how Corbyn had in the past regularly appeared on the Moscow state-controlled channel Russia Today. “The work is under new management,” Starmer replied in a proprietary manner.
Indeed, it is. Whether a sufficient number of voters will be warmer to them than the previous batch is another question.