Keir Starmer grills Boris Johnson on Chris Pincher promotion
Has PMQs ever fallen at a worse time?
Last night, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid resigned from their ministerial positions after Boris Johnson's handling (or lack thereof) of the Chris Pincher scandal proved too much for them, and after months of cycles of scandals and apologies, rinse and repeat, the dam of Tory patience burst and (at the time of writing) 21 Tories have quit the government.
We thought Johnson was having a bad day when he faced Labour leader Keir Starmer after he narrowly won his no-confidence vote but this? Something Else.
That being the case, perhaps asking who won this edition of PMQs is akin to inquiring over the Pope's religion or pondering where bears defecate, and yet, here we are, doing just that for our sins (and for Johnson's), as the two leaders discussed the scandal.
Highlights reel, please:
Starmer: "I'm not asking for bluster and half truths, we've all had enough of that," 8/10
Starmer kicked things off by asking why Johnson promoted Pincher to deputy chief whip despite reportedly being aware of allegations against him for a number of years, and also asked whether it was true the PM referred to him as "Pincher by name, pincher by nature."
Johnson blabbered on and failed to answer the question so sadly Stamer got the bluster and half-truths he specifically didn't want.
Johnson: "I acted immediately...I took the whip away from him." 0/10
We have never seen the word "immediately" do so much heavy lifting. Not only did it take around a day for Johnson to remove the whip from Pincher, after he resigned following allegations he drunkedly groped two men, it took a few days for Downing Street to clarify how much the PM knew about the matter.
Nevertheless, the king of hubris then changed the subject and started talking about getting unemployed people into work and changes to national insurance that come into effect today, reading the room with as much literacy skill as a newborn baby who hasn't even opened their eyes for the first time.
\u201c"I acted immediately" against Chris Pincher, says Boris Johnson, who let him remain in office and promoted him to Deputy Chief Whip, despite being warned repeatedly about his behaviour over multiple years. #pmqs\u201d
Starmer: "Isn't this the first recorded case of the sinking ships fleeing the rat?" 10/10
Starmer responded by listing previous scandals Johnson has presided over, including allegations that Priti Patel bullied staff in her department, and the Owen Paterson sleaze affair. "Anyone quitting now after defending all that hasn't got a shred of integrity," he said.
This was an absolutely savage line from a usually more mild-mannered Starmer and it certainly left Johnson feeling ratty... sorry.
\u201cThe sinking ships are deserting the rat. \ud83d\udc00 #PMQs\u201d
Johnson: "He should see what his lot says about him" 1/10
Johnson's reply showed wit and his ability to think fast... if he was a nine-year-old bickering at the school gates. He then blurted out attacks on Starmer shouting "Corbyn" then "Brexit" then the investigation into "beergate" like a man desperately playing current(ish) affairs bingo.
Starmer: "What a pathetic spectacle. The dying act of his political career is to peddle that nonsense 8/10
Starmer wasn't angry - he was disappointed and after showing he was totally unphased by Johnson's attack of verbal diarrhoea, he once again turned his attention to the MPs who still support the PM and called them "the charge of the lightweight brigade" - a great line.
He later called the MPs a "Z list cast of nodding dogs" - another top joke.
\u201cCharge of the light weight brigade is good #pmqs\u201d
Johnson: "When times are tough, when the country faces pressures on the economy... that is when you would expect the government to continue with its job not walk away," 3/10
When times are tough, when the country faces pressure on the economy... that is when you would expect the government to fix these issues instead of inwardly hand wringing over party scandals and wasting time by propping up people with less integrity than half of Belmarsh.
Starmer replied: "The only thing he is delivering is chaos" and got the chatty house to keep schtum when he referenced quotes from Pincher's alleged victim, reminding people of the human hurt behind the Westminster scandal.
\u201cReally glad Starmer has opened by bringing this back to the feelings of the victims, who have got a bit forgotten in the ensuing drama #pmqs\u201d
Johnson: "We have a plan and they do not.... we are going to get on with our jobs," 2/10
So Johnson whipped out his last weapon and attacked Starmer for not having a "plan" which is about two years too old as a dig, especially given Starmer this week unveiled a plan to deal with Brexit and has dropped a number of other potential policies over the last few months - like the windfall tax on big businesses that Johnson... ahem... borrowed.
Over the last few weeks, Starmer has been suffering from Goldilocks syndrome. Too boring and not funny enough. Too many jokes and not serious enough.
Today, Starmer got his porridge just right. His (or his writer's) zingers aimed at Johnson loyalists hit the mark, and he still managed to hammer home just how serious the Pincher scandal is.
Johnson, on the other hand, could be replaced by a puppet operated by anyone who has seen one edition of PMQs. That is to say, he said the same thing he does every week. "Getting on". "Brexit". "Corbyn".
We guess there is not much point changing your script when you know your days doing PMQs are numbered...
\u201cBy far the best #PMQs @Keir_Starmer has ever had. Magnificent. Prime Ministerial.\u201d