“Why didn’t the Prime Minister sack the former Health Secretary on Friday morning?”
Boris Johnson had no desire to recall, let alone explain, the painful events of Friday morning, when his breakfast was spoiled by the most memorable Sun front page since 1986, when that newspaper told the world “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster”.
So instead of answering Sir Keir Starmer’s question, the Prime Minister observed that “a new Health Secretary was in place by Saturday”, and added that while this was “fast” (some of us wondered for a moment whether he used the term to mean risqué), “it wasn’t as fast as the vaccine rollout”.
Ah yes, the vaccine rollout. Here was the happy subject to which Johnson again and again urged us to turn our thoughts.
Sir Keir was determined to make Johnson unhappy: “That was a ridiculous answer.” On Friday morning, ministers were “sent out to defend the indefensible”. Did the PM “sack the Health Secretary or at any point ask him to resign”?
Johnson mounted another, somewhat laboured diversion, about the three days Sir Keir spent “trying and failing” to sack Angela Rayner.
The Leader of the Opposition proceeded to tell the House about a young boy, Ollie Bibby, who died in hospital of leukaemia, and “begged to see his family, but following the rules, only one member of his family was allowed to see him”.
Ollie’s mother is “livid” that they had to follow the rules and Matt Hancock didn’t.
“We all share the pain of Ollie and his family,” Johnson said, and proceeded to say that instead of “focussing on stuff going on inside the Westminster bubble”, the Government is “focussing on rolling out those vaccines to make sure people like Ollie and his family don’t have to suffer in the future”.
Sir Keir waxed indignant at the PM’s use of the term “Westminster bubble”, asked him to withdraw it, and concluded, “It’s one rule for them and another rule for everyone else.”
Johnson ignored the demand to withdraw, and reiterated that there was a new Health Secretary the next day, “the whole country can see that”.
So who won this encounter? That depends more on the spectators than on the contestants.
Are you by temperament a puritan or a cavalier?
Do you favour the earnest moralist, or the optimist who tells us to look on the bright side of life?
And do you really care how Hancock was sacked, or has that Westminster bubble burst?