Artillery Row Sketch

Business as usual in Peppa Pig World

Forget cake, it’s Boris’s porkie pies that will cause him problems

Boris Johnson rose to loud cheers, so loud he seemed a little taken aback. After last week’s strike, in which many Tory MPs stayed away from prime minister’s questions, this week there was a concerted effort to turn up and stand by their man. Their benches were, if not packed, certainly well stocked.

It doesn’t mean much. This lot are quite capable of throwing him overboard if they decide he’s a liability, but it was always going to take more than one bad speech to do it.

Why stop at Attlee? Why not blame Gladstone for failing to settle the Irish Question, or Mary Tudor for losing Calais?

Still, it seemed to give him a lift. Is there a Peppa Pig episode where Daddy Pig goes into the office and everyone is extra nice to him because they know he’s been having a difficult time? Does it turn out that Daddy Fox and Miss Rabbit have been taking soundings behind the scenes about shipping Daddy Pig off to the abattoir? Presumably it’s around this episode that Peppa learns about Daddy Pig’s other families that he never sees.

Keir Starmer had decided to ask about social care. It turns out that Johnson’s election pledge that no one would have to sell their home to pay for their care has been subject to revision and downgrade – imagine! – at the hands of Rishi Sunak. Had the prime minister broken another promise?

“No!” replied Johnson. It was all a misunderstanding, he claimed. This was greeted with a big cheer from his own side, who really ought to know better by now than to believe that kind of reassurance. 

Starmer tried again. “It is not a complicated question,” he said. But it was complicated enough to allow Johnson to waffle in reply. It was Labour’s fault, he said. 

If anyone felt that, after 11 years in government, it was a bit much for the Tories to still be blaming Tony Blair for the country’s problems, Johnson was gearing up to go several better. “It’s something left over from the Attlee government,” he said, “and we are fixing it.” Why stop at Attlee? Why not blame Gladstone for failing to settle the Irish Question, or Mary Tudor for losing Calais, or Athelstan for not levelling up the north? Even Priti Patel, who had been cheering like a woman clinging to her job by her fingertips, looked a bit doubtful at this point.

Johnson laughed it all off, full Daddy Pig, waving problems away as his side cheered him along

“Strip away the bluster,” replied Starmer, “it is another broken promise, just like the prime minister promised that he would not put up tax; just like he promised 40 new hospitals; just like he promised a rail revolution in the north.” Johnson did his best cartoonish “astonished outrage” face. The very idea that someone could suggest he’d broken promises on railways! People who assume all politicians are liars really don’t appreciate how hard it is for most people to pull this kind of thing off. Johnson’s utter lack of shame really is his great political strength. 

Starmer’s lines were alright – the social care plan was a “working class dementia tax”, the prime minister was the “front man distracting people” while Rishi Sunak “dips his hand in their pocket” – but it would be generous to say he laid a glove on the prime minister. Johnson laughed it all off, full Daddy Pig, waving problems away as his side cheered him along.

So, is everything happy again in Peppa Pig World? Perhaps not. After the main tussle of PMQs came a series of questions from backbench Tories. Karl McCartney wanted more money for Lincolnshire’s roads. Daniel Kawczynski wanted cash for Shropshire’s accident and emergency service. Holly Mumby-Croft wanted help for Scunthorpe’s steelmakers. And Sir Mike Penning wanted to know why south-west Hertfordshire wasn’t going to get the hospital the prime minister had promised.   

There’s a theme to these problems, and social care too: they’ll all cost money to fix, and people will notice if it doesn’t happen. Johnson is a master at ignoring Starmer’s questions and brushing aside criticisms. The Labour Party doesn’t show much sign of doing for him. But reality might yet catch up with him. 

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