Boris Johnson said he would die in a ditch, yet here he was in the Commons, looking all things considered in quite good form. Jeremy Corbyn accused him of “another broken promise”.
Useless to protest that the Leader of the Opposition was being literal-minded and unimaginative about the expression “I’d rather die in a ditch”.
Most of us would rather die than listen to another exchange of insults between Corbyn and Johnson, with each determined to put the lowest construction on the other’s motives.
Corbyn’s case rested on the contention that we have “a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted”. He made this inglorious point again and again, for he had nothing much else to say.
Simon Hoare (Con, North Dorset) rose and observed that if Johnson and the rest of the Tories are as awful as Corbyn claims, “he has the chance to sweep us out of office” by agreeing to hold a general election.
Here certainly was a weakness in Corbyn’s case. The lower the view he takes of the Government, the keener he ought to be to give the British people the opportunity to pass judgment.
Unless, dread thought, the British people are not quite as distrustful of Johnson as Corbyn would like them to be.
Perhaps they think that when the Prime Minister says he wants to “get Brexit done”, he is speaking the truth.
They may realise that all sorts of exaggerated turns of phrase can be used to indicate drive, determination and energy.
Johnson, who spoke first, said nobody in the House relishes the idea of a general election, “but across the country there is a widespread view that this Parliament has run its course”.
He remarked that there had been “a tantalising moment” last week when the House voted for the Second Reading of the Brexit Bill, “and then the House threw out the programme motion”, so the Bill could not proceed.
“Not only were there no new ideas in that debate,” Johnson observed, “but the Opposition actually ran out of speakers.”
Nor were the Labour benches crowded for this evening’s debate. They too had no desire to listen to a squabble which went round and round in circles.
Johnson said Corbyn “has now run out of excuses”, is “hiding from the British people” and should instead show “the courage to face our ultimate bosses” in a general election.
But the Government fell far short of the 434 votes it needed in order to get an election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.
Johnson rose and said “we will not allow this paralysis to continue”, and the Government will therefore try again, with a short Bill for an election on 12th December.
So he remains the man who trying to do something, while Corbyn remains in the more uncomfortable position of the man trying to stop something happening.
One of them seems likely, before much more time has elapsed, to die in a ditch. We hasten to add that we mean that figuratively.