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Boris Johnson has a new and more severe haircut. It is the least he can do as he adopts the solemn tone in which it is incumbent upon him to discuss the coronavirus.

Richard Graham (Con, Gloucester) invited him to agree that “now is the time to wash our hands and pull together”.

Johnson resisted the temptation to refer to Pontius Pilate, an Establishment figure famous for washing his hands, and agreed with Graham.

Would Jeremy Corbyn pull together too? This was the tricky question facing the Leader of the Opposition.

If he too had adopted a statesmanlike tone, one cannot help feeling that Johnson, brought up since earliest youth to puncture any hint of pomposity, might have cracked.

But Corbyn instead referred to “our part-time Prime Minister” – a low blow, indicative of a desire to pull Johnson apart.

The Prime Minister continued to strike an elevated note. He contended that although the Government “is not at the point yet where we’re asking large numbers of people to self-isolate…nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing.”

Corbyn continued to cavil. He wished to know whether the statutory sick pay to which the Prime Minister had referred would “apply to all claimants”.

Having captured the moral high ground, Johnson proceeded to entrench himself there. He suggested it was “common ground between us all, that we want to do everything we can to avoid penalising those who are doing the right thing”.

The Leader of the Opposition remained grumpy. Perhaps he detected in the Prime Minister’s reply a faint suggestion that he, Corbyn, should self-isolate for the greater good of mankind.

For whatever reason, Corbyn resorted once more to the expression “our part-time Prime Minister”. This was overdoing it, for Johnson had as recently as yesterday produced a battle plan to deal with coronavirus.

Corbyn switched to the bullying charges made against the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who was sitting beside the Prime Minister.

Johnson retorted: “She is keeping the public safe.”

Corbyn tried to make Patel unsafe. He said there are now “further allegations” against her which show “a shocking and unacceptable pattern of behaviour”, and what is more, public money has been “spaffed up the wall” to buy the silence of various people.

No more need for statesmanship from Johnson. He said he would “take no lessons about bullying” from a “a full-time neo-Marxist who has failed to stamp out bullying in his own party”.

Corbyn had attempted to fulfill the duty of the Leader of the Opposition, which is to oppose, but had somehow failed to lay a glove on Johnson.

Immediately after PMQs, the Speaker allowed Andrea Leadsom to make a statement, even though she had been sacked rather than resigning from the Government.

She spoke at length in a tone of syrupy self-congratulation which made people want to flee the Chamber.

66 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Johnson advocates hand-washing but keeps Pontius Pilate out of it

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