Week by week, like two ill-assorted gladiators, Sir Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson try to kill each other.
Sir Keir attempts to pin Johnson down by applying, to some specific question, a remorseless and inescapable logic. Today he said Johnson must either be for a windfall tax on the oil and gas companies, or against it, or “sitting on the fence like his Chancellor”.
Johnson’s chosen weapons are ridicule and diversion. He remarked at once that Sir Keir had “struggled to define what a woman was”.
In this way he sought at once to ridicule his opponent’s claim to be a logician, and to change the subject. It was noticeable that Sir Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest West) laughed uproariously at the Prime Minister’s joke. The history of our times should be written as an account of who finds what funny, or indeed unfunny.
Johnson went on to say that unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 1974, “when I was ten years old”.
Another shameless diversion! Some of us found our minds drifting to the ten-year-old Johnson, a pupil at the European School in Brussels, noting already, in his subversive way, that the great project of European unification did not seem to stop the Germans socialising mainly with the Germans, the French with the French, while the British gave dinner parties at which most of the guests were British.
Sir Keir tried to get us back to the subject of the windfall tax. He complained that the Prime Minister’s answer had been “clear as mud”.
Johnson took that as a compliment and retorted that Labour’s instinct was “always and everywhere to raise taxes on business”.
Sir Keir listed a few of the people who are in favour of a windfall tax, and said “the member for North East Somerset”, Jacob Rees-Mogg, was dead-set against it, “when he’s not sticking notes on people’s desks like some overgrown prefect”.
A roar of laughter from Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, and from others who think that Johnson and Rees-Mogg are ludicrous figures, with whose arguments there is no need to engage.
“So he is on the side of excess profits for oil and gas companies,” Sir Keir summed up for the prosecution. Johnson said that on the contrary, he was on the side of record low unemployment. He referred to the opening of the Elizabeth Line, which crosses London from west to east, and asked “who was the Mayor of London when Crossrail first started to be built?”
Another of those delightful flashes of autobiography with which the Prime Minister is so liberal.
Hannah Bardell (SNP Livingston) asked how on a scale of one to ten Johnson was doing in observing the principles of public life as set down in the ministerial code.
It took him no more than a split second to award himself “ten out of ten”. Widespread amusement, even on the Opposition benches, where many stern judges would give him nought out of ten.
The Prime Minister had yet again wriggled free, and all the usual people felt confirmed in their view that he is an utterly disreputable figure.