Boris Johnson, the heavyweight champion, swaggered into the ring at noon for his weekly bout against Sir Keir Starmer.
Sir Keir is widely admired for his scientific approach to boxing. He sees his opponent’s weak spot, and with forensic accuracy lands punch after punch on it. Only the other day he knocked out Jeremy Corbyn.
Johnson is about twice the size of Corbyn, but British heavyweights often run to seed, and Sir Keir remains confident that this one will not last the distance.
And yet there was a spring in Johnson’s step which indicated that this week he saw Sir Keir as an irrelevance, a sideshow, a mere nit-picking pedant.
For Johnson the life-and-death battle is against Covid-19. It nearly killed him, and could yet kill his career.
But Johnson today brought good news to the House. He has “two big boxing gloves”, a vaccine and mass testing, with which he is going to “pummel” the virus “into submission”.
“Neither of them is capable of delivering a knock-out blow on its own,” he admitted, but together they will bring victory.
How confident he sounded. In the ring, that can be a fatal quality: a boxer lowers his guard for a moment, and down he goes.
But today, Sir Keir could not lay a glove on him. In vain he objected to the £670,000 of public money spent on PR consultants by the chair of the Government’s vaccine taskforce.
Johnson observed that some of that was to counter anti-vaxxers and persuade people to take part in trials, and chided Sir Keir for failing to “pay tribute” to the vaccine taskforce.
“Nobody’s attacking individuals,” Sir Keir said, which did not seem quite right, for here he was attacking Johnson.
All devotees of the noble art will wish Sir Keir well, and will hope that in the weeks to come he starts once more to land some blows.