IS it too late to go back and check December’s ballot papers? I really don’t recall any candidates standing for the Scottish Nationalist Party in the General Election, yet Boris Johnson seems absolutely convinced they won a number of seats. Indeed, he is keen to give them regular shout-outs during PMQs, when MPs from other parties are trying to ask him questions.
This week he at first seemed full of praise for the phantom politicians, congratulating them on their support for his three-tier approach to coronavirus restrictions. But the compliment had a sting in the tail – this, he said, was in contrast to their usual gelatinous behaviour.
It’s a riddle worthy of Lewis Carroll – can a person be both jelly-like and non-existent? Can one wobble without weight, or be moulded without mass? If a Scottish Nationalist Party politician falls off a plate onto the floor of the Commons and there is no-one there to hear it except Boris Johnson, does he or she make a “splat!” sound?
It’s almost as though the Prime Minister – known for peppering his speeches with Latin and Greek to show the plebs how clever he is –in fact just spouts any old rubbish in a confident voice, banking on the fact that hardly anyone is really listening and most people don’t understand four-syllable words, even when they’re in English.
Oh, and in answer to this week’s question from Ian Blackford from the Scottish National Party – yes, there will be support for the people who lose their jobs after the end of the furlough scheme. It’s called Universal Credit.
Of course, last week’s question still needs answering – you may recall that the Prime Minister responded with “try again next time” – so the SNP’s Allan Dorans presses him on whether the temporary uplift to Universal Credit will be made permanent. The answer is, of course, “ramble ramble” (translation: no).
Keir Starmer has finally taken my advice and is now just ignoring Johnson’s distracting counter-questions to concentrate on his own interrogation, but he’s still not listening carefully enough to the answers he does manage to extract.
He asks: “Why is the Prime Minister so confident that his approach will get the R rate below 1, or is that no longer the government plan?”
Johnson of course begins with some waffle, accusing Starmer of “misrepresenting the position – doubtless inadvertently”, but the proper answer, when it came, was a masterclass in the hedging of bets and pre-emptive passing of bucks.
You’ll notice that while “we” are supposedly all in this together, responsibility for all of this is up to “them”.
But Starmer presses on, letting Johnson away with all of these caveats. “I’m sure the PM has his pre-prepared rant ready as usual, but we’re at a tipping point,” he says, in what feels suspiciously like a pre-prepared barb.
The leader of the opposition can be forgiven for assuming Johnson won’t give a straight answer, but for once he has, and it’s not at all encouraging. You’d hope the Prime Minister would at least try to inspire confidence. Instead, he’s getting his excuses in early.