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Never has the Prime Minister looked so sombre or sounded so consensual. His demeanour has undergone the transformation demanded by the crisis.

Boris Johnson was brought up to tell every joke a situation might offer. Today there were no jokes, no humorous asides at the expense of opponents, no smirks.

In their place came a sombre and unwavering bipartisanship. He sounded as if he was leading a Government of National Unity, not a Government of Conservatives.

Jeremy Corbyn said the Labour benches “will do our duty to hold the Government to account”, and complained that “the Chancellor offered nothing to 20 million people living in rented homes”.

A momentary look of vexation seemed to cross Rishi Sunak’s stern features, in the second or two the television showed his face, for this report was being written remotely.

But Johnson allowed no hint of annoyance to disturb his furrowed brow. “He’s making a series of very powerful points,” the Prime Minister said of the Leader of the Opposition, and assured MPs that the Government “will protect private renters from eviction”.

When Corbyn turned to the provision of protective equipment for medical staff, Johnson declared that “he’s absolutely right to raise this”.

Ian Blackford, for the Scottish Nationalists, welcomed this bipartisanship, and suggested people should be given “the security of a Universal Basic Income”.

Johnson thanked him “for the spirit in which he has spoken”, observed that it is “very important as we go forward that we try” to build a consensus, and did nothing to rubbish the idea of a Universal Basic Income.

In this early phase of the crisis, bipartisanship is fairly easy to maintain. Later on, one suspects, bipartisanship fatigue may set in.

The Chamber was three-quarters empty, but the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, informed us at the start of PMQs that this was deliberate, having been arranged through the usual channels, i.e. the Whips, in accordance with medical advice about sitting a reasonable distance apart.

Sunak, sitting next to the Prime Minister, looked for most of the time like an Easter Island statue, immobile yet somehow at ease.

The Commons had shown its ability to register the national mood, and so, to the astonishment of those who see him as an incorrigible buffoon, had the Prime Minister.

 

58 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Johnson steps forward as the leader of a National Government

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