Perhaps Boris Johnson felt that PMQs has become barren, evasive and dull. If so, he is right.
At the end of today’s session, the furious, turbanned figure of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Lab, Slough) offered something better. He spoke with deep emotion about his grandmother, whom none of the family were able to comfort in her final hours because they obeyed the rules, while “we see sycophantic, spineless, hypocritical government ministers lining up to defend the indefensible” behaviour of the Prime Minister’s chief adviser (a reference to Dominic Cummings), so there was “one rule” for the PM “and his elite chums, and another for the rest of us plebs”.
Something in this got through to Johnson, who responded with deep emotion, said he took Dhesi’s criticisms “most sincerely”, and agreed that “nothing I can say takes back the lost lives, the lost time spent with loved ones that he describes, and I’m deeply, deeply sorry for that”.
Though not an admission of culpability, this was a recognition of shared suffering, and for a moment it cleared the air.
Sir Keir Starmer accused Johnson of letting the Delta or “Johnson variant” into the country, and now taking all protections off in one go: “That is reckless.”
Johnson attempted to turn PMQs into Questions to the Leader of the Opposition, by demanding several times to know what Labour would do.
The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, warned the PM that “if we want Opposition Questions we’ll have to change Standing Orders”.
The PM took no notice, continued with his blocking tactic of asking what Labour would do differently, and ended with the tiresome soundbite, “We inoculate while they’re invertebrate.”
It was hard, during these exchanges, not to allow one’s thoughts to wander, for Johnson was plainly not going to reveal any of the assumptions on which the Government’s intended relaxation of the rules will be based.
“An ounce of emotion is equal to a ton of facts,” Sir John Junor used to say. Perhaps Johnson realised, having offered not much more than an ounce of facts, that he could at least show himself to be, like Dhesi, a man of feeling.