Westminster sketch: Boris barely survives as crisps and tinsel return to haunt him

PRIME Minister’s Questions was going well, or at least less badly than usual, for the PM. While not exactly subdued, the House was not as mental as of late. The main thrust of Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer had been neither parties nor Savile, J.

But, after a perfectly civilised discussion about fraud (the crime, not the Prime Minister), more bad news about parties eventually dropped – even as the PM had been speaking.

Labour’s Fabian Hamilton revealed that “in the last few minutes”, a photo had emerged of Boris in Downing Street on 15 December 2020 “surrounded by alcohol, food and people wearing tinsel”.

Tinsel. Oh dear. In such detail lies the devilry. The Mirror website’s “bombshell image” showed the PM “near an open bottle of bubbly and packet of crisps”. Crisps: it gets worse. Thus the sybaritic life of the elite.

Boris averred that Mr Hamilton was “completely in error”, though later it transpired he meant not about the party but about Mr Hamilton’s claim that the matter was not under investigation. The PM said information about it had been submitted to the police. Excellent. That’s not so bad then.

Alas, Savile’s ugly mug also came up later in proceedings, with reference to an incident outside Parliament where, echoing an unwise remark by the PM last week, an estimated one people shouted at Sir Keir about the sex beast not having been prosecuted while he was Director of Public Prosecutions.

Ruth Jones (Lab) said, that just as “careless words” from Mr Johnson had led to an extended sentence for Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe in Iran, the same had led to Sir Keir being “hounded by thugs outside this Parliament”. Rather than singing I Will Survive, said Ms Jones, the PM would be better singing Careless Whisper (a hit for Mr George Michael, M’lud).

The PM, in a notably silky shirt (we add by way of devilish detail), replied that Ms Jones ought not to let “the thugs and yobs who bullied and harassed the right honourable gentleman” off the hook, any more than she should let the Iranian government off the hook.

Earlier, as noted above, Sir Keir had led on the comparatively mundane matter of financial fraud. He’d heard the Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, saying fraud was not a biggie for most folk, not something “people experience in their day-to-day lives”.

Sir Keir asked about withdrawing such words, noting that, during lockdown, “two crimes that people could commit were online fraud and throwing parties”.

He added: “So far as I can see, the numbers for both of these have gone through the roof.”

Boris answered to the effect that, broadly speaking, his Government was against crime and was taking some measures against it, er, as a whole.

With the PM in a whole, Sir Keir kept digging, recalling that the PM’s anti-fraud minister, Lord Agnew, had quit after having to “smash some crockery to get people to take notice” of the problem.

As if the PM hadn’t enough on his plate, Mr Starmer brought up another scam: the so-called energy discount that was really “a dodgy loan”. Quoth Sir K: “If it sounds like he’s forcing people to take out a loan, and it looks like he’s forcing people to take out a loon” – little Freudian slop there – “isn’t it just forcing people to take out a loan?”

I should say that the effect of Sir Keir’s oratory was somewhat marred at one point by a woman directly behind his head scrolling down her phone with scarlet-painted nails, just as viewers were similarly distracted by a woman behind Boris’s left ear rhythmically scratching her thigh. Don’t they know there are cameras present?

Meanwhile, Mr Speaker had to make one of relatively few interventions this session to an unruly group to his right: “If you want to carry on, carry on outside.” That was to the Tory front bench.

It was a case of Carry On Groaning when SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford rose to ululate that the forthcoming National Insurance hike would mean a real cut in nurses’ pay.

Boris: “We value our nurses, we love our NHS.”

Ian: “Well, actions speak louder than words.” Boris thought bubble: ‘Shut up and actively sit down then. Or give us a wee Heilan’ fling.’

What the PM actually said was: “I must say I think it peculiar that, as I understand it, the Scottish Nationalist [sic] Party’s approach to health care is now to cut off the bottom of doors in schools in Scotland in order to improve ventilation.” Touché. With knobs on.

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