The Match of the Day pundits refer to football managers losing the dressing room. Boris Johnson is not in that zone quite yet, but looking around at some of the faces on the backbenches yesterday suggested he might not be far off.
Not since the dying days of Theresa May has such a sour atmosphere permeated the government benches. Despondency was everywhere.
The Prime Minister’s sale pitch for his new tier restrictions was about as impressive as a trader flogging knock-off aftershaves along the Old Kent Road.
Here was one frazzled hombre. Limp. Stodgier than a soggy oatcake. A washed-up actor phoning it in while the supporting company gave it their all.
What followed was possibly the most painful afternoon in Boris’s premiership.
Sir Keir Starmer had his sorrowful voice on, the one which drips with headmasterly disappointment and phoney concern. A sign that one of his lawyerly ‘I told you so’ lectures was in the pipeline.
The Prime Minister’s sale pitch for his new tier restrictions was about as impressive as a trader flogging knock-off aftershaves along the Old Kent Road, says Henry Deedes
We already knew Labour intended to abstain from the vote but he insisted on explaining why. Oh joy.
For the next 20 minutes, Starmer set about critiquing the Government’s strategy. It was quite simply the dullest speech I have ever heard in the chamber.
Even Labour’s health spokesman Jon Ashworth had to keep shifting his weight from buttock to buttock in an attempt to keep his eyelids open.
Boris listened on like a bear with sunburn. He blew out his cheeks, he folded his arms huffily.
Occasionally, he would gaze upwards and widen his eyeballs as though someone had squirted him in the face with lemon juice. Tory MPs repeatedly asked what Starmer would do differently.
‘I’ll get to that,’ he would say with a wag of the forefinger. His eventual answer? Even tougher restrictions. Genius!
Tory grandees sucked gravely on their dentures. ‘Most authoritarian government since the Commonwealth of the 1650s!’ declared raffish Sir Desmond Swayne (Con, New Forest West).
Sir Graham Brady (Con, Altrincham & Sale West) delivered a wonderfully patronising speech in which he accused the Prime Minister of not doing enough to justify removing basic civil liberties.
Sir Keir Starmer had his sorrowful voice on, the one which drips with headmasterly disappointment and phoney concern. A sign that one of his lawyerly ‘I told you so’ lectures was in the pipeline
David Davis (Con, Howden & Haltemprice) said the Government needed a policy which provided us with maximum protection from the virus while causing the least amount of economic damage. ‘This,’ he sighed, ‘is not it.’
What will have stung Boris Johnson is that these were exactly the sort of libertarian ripostes he would have undoubtedly made were he not in government. Small wonder that after Davis finished talking down to him, he was out of that chamber faster than a ferret up a pair of warm corduroys.
But what will have set teacups rattling in Downing Street was the sight of ex-ministers lining up in the ‘no’ lobby. Former business secretary Andrea Leadsom gave the front bench one of her stern, matronly dressing-downs, informing them she could not impose ‘deliberate harm’ on her constituency.
Ex-chief whip Mark Harper said he hadn’t seen sufficient evidence the tiers were necessary so he wouldn’t be supporting the Government. Such an impossibly neat fellow, Harper. He looks like one of those mid-market restaurant greeters who permanently try to thrust a business card into your palm.
Sir Graham Brady (Con, Altrincham & Sale West, pictured) delivered a wonderfully patronising speech in which he accused the Prime Minister of not doing enough to justify removing basic civil liberties
There was much fury about ‘wet’ pubs, that’s to say old-fashioned boozers which would have to remain shut on account of not serving food.
The PM had promised them a one-off £1,000 payment. Alec Shelbrooke (Con, Elmet and Rothwell), no stranger to the whiff of the cork, stood up looking so cross the buttons on his waistcoat threatened to pop at any moment. He described the offer as ‘risible’.
Indeed. I’ve seen Mayfair hedge funders drop more than that on one round.
Labour’s benches moaned and groaned. Why they bothered since they were abstaining wasn’t clear.
Unintentionally, the funniest remark came from Maria Eagle (Lab, Garston & Halewood), who insisted she was ‘trying to be supportive’ of the Government. Ha! A spider would sooner help out a scorpion than the Eagle sisters lend a Tory any assistance.
For six long hours this dragged on, before Matt Hancock closed the debate for the Government, presumably because we haven’t heard enough from the puffed-up Health Secretary in the past nine months. ‘We can afford to let up a little, we just can’t afford to let up a lot,’ he implored.
Blimey. Try that tongue-twister after a couple of sharp ones.
When the result came through, it emerged that 55 Tories had voted against the Government. Comfortably Boris’s biggest rebellion so far. There’s trouble a-brewin’.