“People live by the narrative” Boris johnson he told Tom McTague of the Atlantic, for a long and revealing profile this week that explains a lot about how Johnson views the secret to his political success. But the House of Commons is a field where facts, arguments and rebuttals tend to count more than narrative, and that helps explain why Johnson put on another unimpressive performance against Sir Keir Starmer today.
Starmer focused on the government’s recovery plans for pupils in England, the subject of a Labor debate starting now, and had a relatively easy job given that Sir Kevan Collins, who resigned last week as the recovery commissioner for the education after the government completely ignored his recommendations, had effectively written the script for him in advance. Johnson spluttered a few alternative statements and numbers in response, but Starmer easily had the best argument.
Perhaps most concerning to Johnson was how weak his response was when Barry Sheerman asked him how people would judge whether leveling up was working. This is supposed to be one of the areas where Johnson has a “narrative,” but he was unable to answer a fairly basic question about how his policy would be judged.
Despite all that, it felt relatively routine, and Johnson didn’t seem like a prime minister facing any particular pressure. He never does if he has a big lead in the polls, and Johnson referenced that when asked by Starmer about cutting aid costs. Johnson said the public voted this past month (in local elections) and the Conservatives won. Local elections, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with aid budget cuts, so Johnson’s response amounted to “so what, we’re still popular.” According to this must-read turtle article for Matthew of Ancona, on Culture Wars # 10, “after Labor’s defeat in last month’s local elections and Hartlepool by-elections, … party bosses are targeting, as they say, a ‘Blair scale’ majority of at least 120 [at the next election]. “
Two other points are worth mentioning. The spokesman, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, seems to be growing increasingly irritated with Johnson each week. And Starmer, unusually, chose to go to Jeremy Corbyn in his final question and ask about Palestine. Patrick Maguire The Times is probably right when he explains why here.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism