As the title suggests, I’m a fan of the rowdy theatre of PMQs. Perhaps it’s my background in stand-up comedy but I think it remains a rare occasion where a leader is stripped back to the basics.
They have to answer any question from any MP. And despite having armies of advisers coaching them to within an inch of their lives, when they speak at the despatch box, they are entirely alone, armed only their knowledge, judgement, confidence and wit.
You really get their measure when they take PMQs, not just by what they say but their physical demeanour. And that was certainly the case on Wednesday.
In my many years of studying the weekly joust, I don’t think I have witnessed anything quite as unhinged as the Prime Minister’s final response to the leader of the opposition. He would have had a team of advisers preparing that crucial final riposte which should contain the soundbite for broadcast and social media clips.
Of course, whoever is Prime Minister manipulates that precious moment to their advantage, but Boris Johnson’s virtual meltdown would have driven many of his advisers to despair.
It was the most bizarre word soup. He became a snarling human Boris bingo generator. He kept randomly yelling “take back control” which sounded like a cry for help.
I am someone who concedes Johnson’s charisma and popularity with the public to the frustration of my own wing of politics, but watching him losing like that was unusual. We have seen Johnson be jolly, irreverent, sneaky and infuriating but we haven’t seen that kind of visceral anger before.
Keir Starmer prosecuting all those embarrassing stories about the flat refurb clearly got under his skin, and he made the error of revealing that to the world.
You can see why he’s raging. He wants to be all Churchillian and respected, but it’s more DFS than D-Day as an entire nation falls about laughing at him and his fiancé for trying to scrounge a sofa and gaudy over-priced wallpaper. It’s all so undignified.
Everything about the Prime Minister, from his personal life to how he runs his team, is demeaning his great office. Can you imagine Margaret Thatcher in this situation?
It’s clear his advisers are all over the place. There’s no one in charge with any seniority or substance. No 10 is a cross between Made in Chelsea and the Tweenies. But where are the Cabinet? Where are the party grandees who feel mortified by this downmarket soap opera and care about wider politics?
Of course, most of One-Nation statespersons were purged by Johnson and Cummings over Brexit, but a few remain with some stature such as Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Lord Hague.
It’s time for someone to have a word. Not just for the sake of the Prime Minister but for the self-esteem of the country. Regardless of who’s Prime Minister, Downing Street should have some dignity.
People watch PMQs all over the world, especially in America. Let’s not create our own version of Trump’s White House.