Planet Fact takes on Planet Freedom. Sir Keir Starmer’s questions are evidence-based, utilitarian, grown-up, serious and underlain by the conviction that this is the only moral way to do politics.
Boris Johnson’s answers are imaginative, irreverent, disdainful of inconvenient facts and underlain by the conviction that this is the only tolerable way to do politics.
Sir Keir gives us the world as it is. Johnson responds with the world as we might wish it to be.
The Leader of the Opposition pointed out a clear contradiction between the Prime Minister’s declaration three months ago that “test and trace can be a real game-changer for us”, and Johnson’s statement yesterday of the “complete opposite”, with test and trace able to contribute “very little or nothing”.
“Which one is it?” the ruler of Planet Fact demanded.
The ruler of Planet Freedom declined to engage with this pedantry.
Sir Keir, in his sternest tone, said that “pretending there isn’t a problem is part of the problem, Prime Minister,” and posed another either/or question: did the PM agree with “the Dido Harding defence” of the problem with track and trace (not enough capacity) or “the Matt Hancock defence” (too many people applying for tests who don’t need them)?
No Cavalier could allow such an insult from a Roundhead to a damsel in distress to pass unavenged, and Johnson’s sword leapt from his scabbard: “The continual attacks by the Opposition on Dido Harding are unseemly and unjustified.”
What we want to see, Johnson went on, “is more of the spirit of togetherness that we had yesterday”, instead of this constant knocking from the sidelines.
Starmer was stung. He pointed out that his wife, mother and sister all work or worked for the NHS. He would take no lectures from the PM on the subject.
Ian Blackford, for the SNP, said the Scots did not want Johnson to put his arms round them.
Johnson: “I can imagine that he doesn’t want a hug from me…that was a metaphor.”
On Planet Freedom, the use of imagery is regarded as delightful, while literal fact is ignored.
Puritans are enraged by this, and want to smash Johnson’s images. Their difficulty is that as they do so, they sound a bit self-righteous, and may even find the images are quite widely venerated.