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Monday, November 29, 2021

Grab the best seats in the House… panto season has officially kicked off in Parliament

“I see they’ve turned up this week, Prime Minister!” chuckled the Leader of the Opposition, radiating his patented goofy grin at the Tory backbenches.

It was hard to tell whether the crowds assembled behind the Prime Minister had been won over after a torrid few weeks, or whether, like the cream enveloping the crunchy meringue in an Eton mess, they had simply been whipped to within an inch of their lives. 

But there they were there, all right, and cheered and huzzaed in all the right places.

Oh no, they did not…

Boris Johnson, despite recent setbacks, had arrived in bouncy form. Hair flapping madly, he bobbed about like a Jack-in-the-box, while the Leader of the Opposition often struggled to pin him down.

Sir Keir Starmer tried posing the same question on social care multiple times, though the Prime Minister’s answer remained unchanged.

“Let’s have another go,” sighed Sir Keir, in the world-weary tones of a driving instructor overseeing yet another aborted three-point turn.

But the Jack-in-the-box bounded out of trouble with red herrings aplenty, and a few complaints about Labour’s own failure to deal with the problem during their time in office.

Oh yes, they did!

At other moments, Sir Keir seemed to be doing a convincing impression of… a Telegraph editorial column. “The only thing he’s delivering is high prices, high taxes and low growth!” he cried, gesturing at the Prime Minister.

The Leader of the Opposition even likened Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak to a pair of pickpockets, rinsing the taxpayer with a complex dual-pronged attack.

“The Prime Minister is the front man – distracting people with his wild promises. All the while, his Chancellor dips his hand in their pocket.” The Chancellor flanked the Prime Minister, the Artful Dodger to his Bill Sykes, though his masked visage betrayed no hint of his reaction to any of this.

Mr Johnson retaliated with an insult guaranteed to send Middle England rushing for their red rosettes, accusing the Labour leader of campaigning against HS2.

It seemed the perfect illustration of the adage that “No good deed goes unpunished”. But was this really the wisest attack line? The Prime Minister might as well have baited his opposite number for being into summer fetes, choral evensong or cricket.

Please, sir, can we have some more… leadership?

With recent Tory debacles including Peppa Pig-gate, hostile “Blue on Blue” briefings and disobliging speculation over Mr Johnson’s grip on power, Sir Keir was keen to rub it in. His less than solicitous enquiry, like a patronising health visitor, “Are you OK, Prime Minister?” prompted hoots from his own benches, though his opposite number looked and sounded in rude health.

Ian Blackford of the SNP attempted a full-frontal assault on the Government, but managed to overdo it. His attack soon descended into a portentous monologue that landed somewhere between Polonius and a revivalist preacher prophesying imminent doom. “Floundering in failure!” he cried “A litany of broken promises!” (The end is nigh!)

The Prime Minister hit back with a risky gambit: politician-splaining. “What the people of this country want to hear is less talk about politics,” he said.

Presuming to speak for the public is usually a terrible idea, especially when they’ve a fair bit to be angry about. But in this Chamber at least, he managed to raise a few cheers from the Tory faithful.

Faithful – for now. 

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