The latest installment of Prime Minister’s Questions has just concluded as Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson enjoyed their weekly 15 minute public fight.

After Johnson delayed ‘freedom day’ for four weeks, this was the first opportunity the opposition had to scrutinise the Prime Minister and scrutinise they did as Starmer asked questions about the government’s border policy and business rates while paying tribute to Jo Cox on the anniversary of her murder and the victims of the Grenfell fire.

After the Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle stole the show last week by slapping Johnson on the wrist for trying to bring up things that Jeremy Corbyn – who obviously is no longer the leader of the Labour Party – had done during his tenure, who clawed back the limelight this week?

Let’s take a look:

“Captain Hindsight needs to adjust his retro spectroscope because he’s completely wrong.” - Johnson, 1/10

Give us strength. After Starmer criticised Johnson for not stopping travel from India into the UK when cases of a new Delta variant of coronavirus were rising in the country, Johnson reached into his pocket and pulled out one of his favourite jokes – Captain Hindsight. It is a joke – perhaps second favourite to pretending Starmer lives in Islington – and once again it was not funny.

When learning lessons about the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic – as his former and current colleagues Dominic Cummings and Matt Hancock might note from their attendance at parliamentary hearings – hindsight is useful. Give us the Captain of hindsight, then, over Lieutenant Look At Me any day.

“Your defence is as bad as your border policy.”- Starmer, 8/10

Johnson claimed he acted on the Delta variant as soon as it was deemed a cause for concern. Starmer had other ideas and broke down the dates in which cases rose in India (early April) and compared them to when India was added to the red list (late April). Johnson, on the other hand, flicked through his notes and stuttered as he tried to find the information we would hope the Prime Minister would have at hand. Panicked, he spluttered about how good the vaccine rollout in the country is and was called out by Starmer for not answering his question. Embarrassing.

“While the NHS was vaccinating, he was vacillating.” - Starmer, 8/10

Starmer took the lead again and asked Johnson about his indecision. Johnson? Well, he didn’t really answer the question and just praised the vaccine rollout again.

“If the Prime Minister put as much effort into protecting our borders as he does coming up with ridiculous excuses the country would be reopening next week.” - Starmer, 7-10

It is another valid point from Starmer but also a bold line and one that could have been rebutted if Johnson had done his homework and wasn’t as flustered as he appeared this week.

“Yet another totally unintelligible flip-flop!”- Johnson, 1/10

Johnson must be desperate for a summer holiday. He said “flip-flop” at least three times when trying to criticise Starmer for apparent changes of heart on the government policy. He claimed that if the borders were closed the country would be in disarray as medicines and food come from overseas.

Of course, Starmer has never called for medicines and food to not enter the country to control the coronavirus, and he rolled his eyes at Johnson in response and slammed him for implying that the 20,000 people that entered the UK from India in April, who were suspectedly infected with the Delta variant, were all delivering vital supplies.

“The Prime Minister’s former political adviser got it right.” - Starmer, 5/10

Teasing Johnson about Dominic Cummings? We love to see the return of sassy Starmer as he brought up Cumming’s evidence from last month. The claws are out! Starmer has been criticised, though, as he did not bring up any of Cummings’ leaks this morning that allegedly evidence the claims he made in his session last month. Cummings published texts, purportedly between him and the Prime Minister, discussing firing Health Secretary Matt Hancock, for instance. Others, however, say the leaks dropped too late for Starmer to use.

“The British people do not expect miracles but they do expect basic competence and honesty.” - Starmer, 10/10

Starmer is right. The British people do not expect a perfect response to a – you know what word is coming – UNPRECEDENTED crisis, but some learning would be nice.

The leader of the opposition then set out all of Johnson’s U-turns on dates, from claiming the crisis would be over by Christmas (2020) to delaying the final unlock from 21 June to 19 July and asked him for clarity. “Hear, hear”, the rest of his benches shouted.

Johnson said Starmer should praise and support him – which he has bizarrely done before – and, as he did then, showed that he does not understand the meanings of the words ‘opposition’ and ‘scrutiny’. We suppose he will be asking turkeys to thank him for Christmas, next. If, of course, he doesn’t manage to f**k it up for us next year as well.

The verdict

Overall, Johnson’s message could be summed up as “vaccines are great, we couldn’t have done them without Brexit, and the Conservatives ‘get on’ with stuff”.

It’s messaging that has resonated with the public in the past (see ‘Get Brexit Done’) but on this occasion he would be naive to think it cut through to the media and parliamentary bubble that pay attention to PMQs.

He barely answered questions and failed to provide any meaningful challenge to Starmer’s trademark forensic takedown of his border policy that the Labour Party blame for the spread of the Delta variant in the UK.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle passes the crown back to Starmer, then. Until next week when it could all change.

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