Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Gags, insults, swearing ... Johnson's first PMQs was choreographed madness

Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

It was a Prime Minister's Questions tailor-made for these rollicking, roller-coaster times.

"Call an election, you great big girl's blouse!" Boris Johnson appeared to say to Jeremy Corbyn.

It was one of many insults that he threw at the Labour leader in what seemed more like the language of the school playground than Parliament.

Johnson labelled Corbyn a "chlorinated chicken" and swore in the Commons in a display which led a Labour MP to tweet that he seemed more like "a dodgy stand-up comedian dying on his a**e" than the occupant of Number 10.

The near unanimous verdict from pundits was that Corbyn, who is by no means a natural parliamentary performer, appeared cerebral and statesmanlike as the Prime Minister's cheap gags came thick and fast.

Yet Johnson did not seem like a man caught on the back foot. This wasn't someone speaking off the cuff.

Rather it was a carefully choreographed catalogue of jibes that he heaped on the Labour leader's head.

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The calculation likely is that, regardless of what the commentators think, it will play well on the streets. Let's remember that Johnson isn't targeting Remain supporters. He's seeking to win back those who have deserted the Tories over Brexit dithering and traditional working-class Labour voters.

Given the cacophony of claims and the information overload around Brexit which has turned off so many people, there may have been method in Johnson's 'madness'.

To his critics, the Prime Minister demeaned his office and appeared a corner boy to a cool, calm and collected Corbyn.

The Labour leader repeatedly demanded that the Government should publish official documents which show the impact of a no-deal Brexit on food and medicine supplies.

It was an entirely reasonable request. Johnson resorted to highlighting a shadow minister's previous suggestion that Labour's spending policies were a "s**t-or-bust strategy". Corbyn warned that people had a "great deal to fear" if Johnson did to the country what he had done to the Tories in the last 24 hours.

BoJo blasted his "surrender Bill" which would wreck Britain's chance of talks with Brussels and said of the Labour leader: "He's asking for mobs and momentum activists to paralyse the traffic in his name.

"What are they supposed to chant? What is the slogan? 'What do we want? Dither and delay. When do want it? We don't know'.

"That's his policy. Can he confirm now that he will allow the people of this country to decide on what he is giving up in their name with a general election on October 15 - or is he frit?"

Johnson was met by jeers and loud guffaws from the Opposition benches.

He responded in his own booming, blustering style. Corbyn would not submit the "surrender Bill" to the verdict of the people in an election, he thundered, throwing in the Labour leader's foreign policy record for good measure.

"We think the friends of this country can be found in Paris, Berlin and in the White House, and he thinks they're in the Kremlin, Tehran and in Caracas - and I think he is Caracas, Mr Speaker."

Since he became Tory leader, Johnson has shown himself to be the antithesis of his predecessor in so many ways.

His is a high wire act with no safety net. It could see him become the shortest serving Prime Minister in British history.

The Tories opinion poll ratings show that the distaste for Johnson inside the Westminster bubble isn't replicated in the country at large.

And he knows that it will be the public, not parliamentarians, who ultimately decide his fate.

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