Jeremy Corbyn said Boris Johnson has “a reputation for enjoying life to the fullest”. The jibe was made at the start of his speech, in the course of a rather laboured joke, but many a true word is spoken in jest.
Johnson certainly does have a reputation for enjoying life. He even looks as if he enjoys being Prime Minister.
Corbyn regards him with a disapproving eye. To the Puritan, there is something sinful and self-indulgent about enjoying oneself.
Puritans often make the mistake of supposing their objections to pleasure are widely shared. They think shutting the theatres and cancelling Christmas will be popular.
In the present case, they assume the profound moral revulsion inspired in them by the sight and sound of Johnson is felt by all decent people.
They could be right, but Johnson does not think so. He said of Corbyn, “his policy on cake is neither having it nor eating it”.
In other words, Corbyn is a pinched, mean-spirited figure who wants to stop us enjoying the good things of life.
Johnson has always presented himself as a pro-cake politician. No sooner did he become Prime Minister than he announced that he wants to hand out many of the good things of life at public expense, and will pay for these by letting the free market flourish.
Today he condemned John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, for flinching at the mention of the free market.
He accused McDonnell of conducting “Soviet-era explusions”, purging Corbyn”s lieutenants “as Lenin purged the associates of poor old Trotsky”.
And while McDonnell “tightens his icy grip on the Labour Party”, the contrast with the Conservatives becomes ever starker: “We are putting up wages…they would put up taxes.”
So although the opening salvos in the debate on the Queen’s Speech were unexciting, to put it mildly, from a policy point of view, they did illustrate the antipathy between Johnson and the Labour front bench.
Merry England takes on left-wing Puritanism, indeed rejoices in ridiculing it. That is what will happen in the forthcoming general election.
Not that Johnson had things entirely his own way. Antoinette Sandbach, one of the Tories who recently had the whip withdrawn, called on him to “reverse the Marxist-style expulsions from the Conservative Party”.
One assumes this Merry Englander will do so as soon as he has got Brexit done.