Sketch

Easy miss, I’ve got you

A mild-mannered magazine editor fights for truth, justice and decent wallpaper

The Sketch once joked to a Tory MP who had a complicated relationship with Boris Johnson that the prime minister had a superpower when it came to appealing to voters. To the MP, though, it was no joke. “He really does,” they said, nodding intently. “It really is a superpower.”

What, then, is Boris-Man’s Kryptonite? Labour thought it might be his relationship with cash, his apparent willingness to demand really quite large sums of money from very rich people in order to fund his lifestyle. But that turns out not to cut through. Perhaps it’s just too difficult to imagine a man who looks like he sleeps in his car having expensive tastes in wallpaper.

It’s not Covid, either. Donald Trump only joked about shooting voters. On Johnson’s watch, the UK had a very bad 2020, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting him in 2021.

The prime minister was cheered as he arrived in the House of Commons for questions. The chamber is still socially distanced, but a gang of Tories had taken up occupation of the middle bench over his right shoulder, and were there to provide encouragement. There was the atmosphere of a sixth form outing about them. They were young, but had already mastered the strange noise that Conservative MPs make when they wish to support their leader. “Eeeee-yeeeeaah!” they cried, sounding like a elephant dying painfully of thirst. “Eeeee-yeeeeaah! Eeeee-yeeeeaah!”

Andrew Rosindell stood up. Parliament is a rich human tapestry, its members more sophisticated and varied than is often supposed. Which makes it all the more impressive that Rosindell is precisely the person you imagine when someone says “Essex Tory”. The Tories of Romford could have picked no more perfect representative. He is very interested in flags. He successfully campaigned for the union flag to be flown over parliament year-round and, when he won, successfully campaigned for the flag to be larger. He could have been written by David Hare.

The session was tremendously jolly, and Keir Starmer wasn’t going to manage to ruin it

Rosindell was revealing a new passion for secession. This was a departure for someone whose instincts one assumes to be so unionist that he would support retaking the American colonies. But there is a corner of England that, it turns out, lives under an oppressor’s yoke, and that corner is Havering. “My borough still prides itself on being part of Essex,” Rosindell told Johnson. Havering, he said, wanted to “take back control” from the oppressors at London’s City Hall.

The session was tremendously jolly, and Keir Starmer wasn’t going to manage to ruin it. He is currently struggling in the role of nemesis. In past duels, he has left the Tory hero badly wounded, or at least looking extremely shifty. But these days some Conservatives are even heard to mutter that they’d like him to stay in place, never the thing you want your opponents to be saying. That could change again, but Wednesday’s confrontation didn’t do it.

He asked Johnson about Covid, and travel restrictions, and the general confusion about whether holidays count as essential travel – something Johnson may well believe – but he didn’t really land a blow. Perhaps another of the prime minister’s superpowers is that he can sustain chaotic government to the point where we all just accept it.

The Tory benches were delighted. They laughed uproariously when the SNP’s Ian Blackford, a former investment banker, described himself as “a member of Scotland’s crofter community”, and they laughed even more as Johnson thanked Blackford, who seems to video link from a different room in his house each week, for the shots of his croft. Blackford’s evident fury did nothing at all to dampen their spirits.

Their delight, though, was a little more muted when Lib Dem leader Ed Davey asked about planning reform. “We want to protect our wonderful open spaces,” Johnson said, and the benches behind him murmured approval, but they’re not quite sure he means it in the way they do.

Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams asked if the prime minister is going to sign a trade deal that allows Australian farmers to undercut Welsh ones. The Tories still cheered Johnson’s evasive answer, but not very loudly at all. A lot of them have farmers in their constituencies, too.

And when the Tory Danny Kruger asked for reassurance that Johnson would honour his promise to protect soldiers who served during the Troubles from prosecution, they were silent. The prime minister explained “how difficult, how complex and how fraught these issues are,” and they stayed silent.

Finally Labour’s Justin Madders asked about the whereabouts of the plan for social care that the prime minister claimed was ready two years ago. By now it was the opposition benches that were making the noise. Johnson tried to gee his troops up a bit, bashing Labour for not having solved the problem when they were in government. His side made some noise, but their earlier enthusiasm was missing. It is quite a long time since Labour were in government, after all.

Boris-Man had seen off Captain Starmer and his Labourons, but now he faced his greatest challenge: keeping the promises he’d made during the battle. Could it be that our hero’s Kryponite is Actually Doing Stuff?

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