Nimble Rishi Floats, Stings – But Is That Enough Anymore? mdi-fullscreen

Our nimble Prime Minister came into the House sideways, nimbling along his front bench he nimbled himself into his place. He does that very well. He may be tiny but he is quick. He is fly. He is light on his feet. He thinks as he speaks – something that, in your sketchwriter’s experience, only angry women do well – and this gives him room for manoeuvre.

When Cat Smith asked him how long he had to wait for his NHS dentist appointment he was, after some preparatory policy-waffle, able to say: “Let me answer the hon Lady directly.” He was registered with an NHS GP; he had used independent health care in the past; his hospital had been fantastic, and “The truth is, I’m proud to come from an NHS family” which is why he was “passionately committed” to the etcetera and the so forth. As an answer it was coming at us from all angles. He was floating like a butterfly and stinging like a horsefly.

Dentistry he is good at. And not just because his teeth are the biggest thing about him – he can do the rest of it; he gives a good account of himself. We haven’t had a prime minister since David Cameron who can do that at the despatch box. Mrs May was as God made her, the poor thing. Boris bored at the despatch box, sticking to answers, pre-packed by his staff. Rishi is at least a living presence at PMQs.

But is it enough?

It’s enough for Keir Starmer, for the time being. The Labour leader hasn’t taken the measure of his opponent – perhaps because he thinks he doesn’t have to. He sees a Labour win by repeating “13 years of Tory failure”. He might be right. Rishi thinks he can prevail by repeating “Union paymasters”. He might be right as well.

The to and fro we’ve all heard before. And while jaded viewers might find refreshment in. Rishi’s sparkle – is nimbling enough? Public services are collapsing. Day by day, the UK resembles more and more the New York Times picture of us. The NHS has exhausted all human efforts to reform it. Ambulance drivers, nurses, doctors – along with teachers, border guards, bus drivers are all retreating from service while the public stands bewildered.

Rishi accuses Keir of “focussing on petty politics while I focus on the national interest” (Tory cheers). But is that right? He said the Government’s ambition is “to eliminate 18-month waiting lists.”

Eighteen month waiting lists!

If there is a plan to make things right, if there’s even a narrative we might all subscribe to – there’s no sign of it on the floor of the House, not from left or right. One side leans this way, the other that, and the stasis in the country, in the public service, in Whitehall stultifies.

Jonathan Gullis’ heckle made the Commons laugh, but he was out-heckled 2-1 by the end of the session, using the same heckle. “Between 2010 and 2019, before anyone had heard of Covid – ” Gullis heckled, “Or you.” But Rishi went on to set up Labour with two ripostes: “What the NHS doesn’t need is – ” You! You! And later, “What is terrifying is ­– ” You! You!

Even the comedy is owned in common. It’s socialism in action.

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