If it had been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped it. The knockout was delivered with the very first punch, and after that point, Boris Johnson had no choice but to stagger on, and wait for someone or something to put him out of his misery.
It’s not merely that Keir Starmer made it look easy. He made it look easy because it is easy. Johnson is not only a thousand leagues out of his depth, but too arrogant and too narcissistic to do anything about it.
This was only Prime Minister’s Questions, but one honestly does suspect it would not be beyond the boundaries of his baseless self-belief to agree to a fight with Mike Tyson, do no training whatsoever then turn up expecting to win.
The economy and the precision with which Starmer dismantled Johnson’s one and only policy for containing the coronavirus was remarkable to behold. We know, by now, that he has chosen to reject the guidance of his scientific advisers in favour of a tiered system of local lockdowns which his chief medical officer has said do not go far enough. But here was their full folly laid bare.
On Tuesday night, Johnson had unilaterally imposed the highest restrictions – tier 3 – on the greater Manchester region, and Starmer had a simple question for him. Once an area has gone into tier 3, how does it get out again?
Johnson would explain that an area gets out of tier 3 by getting the R rate below 1.
Starmer gently reminded him that his own chief medical officer said, at the very launch of the tier system, that tier 3 restrictions, on their own, won’t be enough to lower the rate sufficiently. So once you’ve gone into tier 3, there’s no way out is there?
At this point, Johnson underwent his now trademark metamorphosis into a wobbling word blancmange. “Not just about the R number ... range of data ... rates of infection, admissions to hospital ... I am grateful to leaders for areas that have gone in to tier 3 blah blah blah.”
His lips were moving, noise was escaping, but he knew the floor had fallen away beneath him. It’s not uncommon for a politician to be caught out, to be shown to be trying to blag their way through with an argument that doesn’t hold together.
But this was even worse. This wasn’t Johnson trying to be too clever and getting caught out. It wasn’t some con he was trying to pull. It was clear he really didn’t have an answer.
That, actually, once an area goes into tier 3, he really didn’t actually have a clue how it gets out again. He’d been told, by his own chief medical officer, that it wasn’t going to work but he’d done it anyway. And now here he was, suddenly having it explained to him, in a very public place, precisely why it wouldn’t, and he found himself a very long way short of an answer.
He really hadn’t worked it out. He really hadn’t thought about it. And it really is the only idea he’s got. And we really are all stuck with it. And it really is a complete mess. And there really is nothing he’s going to do about it. Because he can’t.
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