A full minute-long countdown introduced Boris Johnson’s first-ever “People’s PMQs”, streamed live on Facebook. From the start of the actual event proper, it took the prime minister less than 10 seconds to start lying.
“At the moment, I’m afraid MPs are all still off on holiday, but I’m here in Downing Street,” he said, in a sly little Trump-esque undermining of the House of Commons, whom he knows he is about to have to fight. For the avoidance of all doubt, MPs are no more on holiday than he is.
“I’m here in Downing Street. And I can take questions from you unpasteurised, unmediated, via this machine,” he said, wafting his hand at his iPad, “and the first question comes from Luther in Cheshire”.
Luther in Cheshire, just like everybody else whose questions were answered, had submitted his question an hour before, by doing as had been instructed and posting it on the prime minister’s Facebook page.
These “unmediated, unpasteurised” questions were then mediated and pasteurised by his staff. The unmediated, unpasteurised questions were the ones scrolling up of the side of the video feed as he spoke.
Questions like, “Are you happy to destroy the United Kingdom for your own vanity and profit?” For some mystifying reason, not even the 20 howling laughter emojis it received were sufficient to bring it to the prime minister’s attention.
Nor, equally bizarre, did the prime minister acknowledge any of the 50 or so identical questions, asked by your humble sketch writer, all of which were variations on a theme of, “How many children have you got?”
No, it was Luther from Cheshire and the rest’s unpasteurised, unmediated interrogation that really got to the heart of things. Luther, you’ll be shocked to learn, wanted to know, “How are you going to get us out of the EU by October 31st?”
And Prime Minister Johnson, he who stood outside No 10 and said he would take “personal responsibility” for Brexit, did what he has now done several times, and very personally, very responsibly, started blaming the EU for refusing to “abolish the backstop”, which he knows very well it cannot and will not do.
It was, in some ways, an innovative experience. In the House of Commons, at normal PMQs, when Boris Johnson stands at the despatch box telling blatant lies, there is no opportunity for a man called Julian, sitting at home somewhere or other, to make the words, “If lies were flies we couldn’t even see your face” appear right next to the prime minister’s face. More’s the pity.
Nor would a man called Iain have the chance to aggressively and repeatedly demand that the price of Freddos be reduced from 25p to 10p.
It went on.
“Micky, a farmer in Scotland wants to know what I am going to do to protect our union of nations.”
“Paul, a systems analyst from the Wirral wants to know why I am already the greatest prime minister in human history.”
“Dave, an orthodontist in Market Rasen wants to know why I am such a total legend.”
“Miranda, a horse whisperer from Cleethorpes wants to know, well, I can’t read that one out but yes it is true Miranda, yes it is.”
All this, we are told, this unmediated, unpasteurised questioning only some of which has been made up by me, was the brainchild of No 10’s new head of digital, Chloe Westley, formerly of the right-wing lobbying group the Taxpayers Alliance, and who is herself no stranger to the perils of being asked, live on air, actual unmediated questions.
Such as, for example, “Where does the Taxpayers Alliance get its money?” as Adam Boulton once asked her live on Sky News, several times, while desperate viewers waited in vain for an unmediated, unpasteurised answer that never quite came.
Viewing figures for Johnson peaked at 7,655, which might not seem like many, but it’s a decent enough crowd for a third-tier football match, so not bad at all for a non-league prime minister.
If Ms Westley is wondering how to get those numbers up next week, well, the most-watched Facebook Live video is still the original and best.
Three years ago, more than a million people watched enraptured as two BuzzFeed employees counted how many elastic bands you could put around a watermelon before it exploded. Six hundred and eighty six is the answer, at least for a watermelon. At the time of writing, no one’s ever tried it with a prime minister.
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