Danny Finklestein, who knows a bit about the subject, looks at Prime Ministers Questions in his Times piece today.
The question I’d ask the Prime Minister is whether he can’t or he won’t answer questions. That he doesn’t is not open to debate but whether this insouciance is just a subset of his arrogance or whether he really has completely lost the plot it’s hard to tell. If the latter a follow up should explore why.
Is Johnson’s failure to answer laziness ? Early onset dementia ? Substance abuse ? Some combination of manifest personality defects and declining mental powers ? It’s hard for the more distant observer to tell.
At his best Keir Starmer tears Johnson apart. But even this brilliant QC seems sometimes to show compassion as his opponent waffles incoherently on. Key players in this Parliament should be the Speaker, who is weak and servile, and Tory backbenchers who are obsequious or thick – generally both.
So PMQs are unwatchable as the PM like Archie Rice in “The Entertainer” tries an act that might once have worked but doesn’t. any more. The jokes are tired, he often forgets the punchline, and he is openly contemptuous of his moronic audience, at least on his side of the House.
Boris Johnson is different from any other Prime Minister in living memory. Watching Dominic Cummings’ BBC interview made one realise how different. And not in a good way. And yet despite his obvious inadequacies he seems fireproof. In normal times a PM so manifestly incapable of answering questions about his job, let alone doing it, wouldn’t survive. Johnson seems to prosper.
In an age when image succeeds more than substance freaks abound. The Music Hall of public life is packed with strange people doing very strange turns. In the heydays of the Halls the great performers , however strange, packed ‘em in. Now the Rees-Moggs, the Patels and the Johnsons (and the rest) are just walking shadows – poor players who strut and fret upon the stage telling idiot’s tales full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
John Osborne used “The Entertainer” as a metaphor for Britain’s decline at the time of Suez. Sixty years on that decline is almost complete. The Union is on its last legs. We are adrift from Europe. The special relationship across the Pond, like the Empire, is long gone. We are diseased and dispirited. And our head of Government whilst waving his flag and encouraging us to clap loudly forgets that he’s the caretaker of a very old ill-maintained building and that it’s unwise to make too much noise.