Andrew Gimson is out and about today, reporting for this site on the local elections – so we have no PMQs sketch. Instead, I’ll offer a snap take.
The Westminster Village view from Twitter is clearly that Keir Starmer won the exchanges, because he asked Boris Johnson a question that the latter wouldn’t answer: who paid initially for the Downing Street flat renovation?
Up to a point, this site lives in the Village, at least for part of the time, and is in no position to pronounce on behalf of the Britain beyond it – what’s sometimes called “outside the M25”.
Actually, there are far more people from inside the M25 who are also outside the Westminster Village than in it. But we’ll let the phrase stand – and let the opinion polls, for all their flaws, speak for all those outsiders.
The Outside the M25 view, as evidenced by those polls, finds the Conservatives on 43 per cent and Labour on 34 per cent. Most of that audience won’t have been watching PMQs and much of it won’t even see the news clips.
Our best guess is that a significant slice of those who saw it would believe either that Johnson was the winner, or that there was no winner at all – because they see the whole affair is a Westminster Village flapdoodle, and view the whole Village with disillusion and contempt.
Much of the Prime Minister’s response to Starmer was little more than an attempt to change the subject. But some viewers won’t have minded that – believing precisely that other subjects (such as Covid, jobs and healthcare) are more important.
We will report tomorrow on what Tory MPs are picking up on the doorstep, as next week’s national and local elections approach, and whether it collectively matches what the polls are saying or not.
Our focus in the whole affair is on whether or not Party money was or wasn’t used to support the Party leader – and whether the Party’s accountability mechanisms were used properly, if it was.
Otherwise, we ask: if Boris Johnson wasn’t using more than the usual allowance of taxpayers’ money to fund the renovation, then what’s the problem? We suspect that most voters agree.
What could unstitch him is not so much whether the Ministerial Code was broken – this site believes that the Code is a farce, and has set out its reasons in detail – or even whether he has been late to meet reporting requirements.
Rather, it is if there is a problem relating to tax that should have been paid not being paid. This is where “the story”, as journalists call it, may or may not be going.
To date, Dominic Cummings’ allegations about the Prime Minister are a sideshow. And Starmer might as well try to reheat the old “Tory sleaze” dish from the 1990s, now the best part of 30 years old. Goodness knows, he has little else to say for himself.