The House of Commons is back, and fully back this time. How did we ever live without it? Guidance on wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces is still in place, which was deemed sufficient to persuade perhaps five MPs to wear one in the very crowded House of Commons. And why not? After the immense efforts made over the last year to show beyond doubt that there is one rule for them and another for everybody else, why jeopardise it with the odd bit of face covering now?
Now, it’s up to MPs to do what they think best, and a few of them made it very clear exactly what that is. Like Jeremy Corbyn, who didn’t wear one at all, until the point at which Diane Abbott stood up to speak while standing quite near him, so he hurriedly masked up for the benefit of the TV cameras.
They were there to be updated by the prime minister on the situation in Afghanistan. We’ve all seen the show before. We know the format. It’s as predictable as an episode of Colombo. It’s only the script itself that is ever very lightly amended. The prime minister says whatever he thinks is needed to be said to get by, plucking it all from the realm of total fantasy and, well, that will do.
Later this week, it seems certain we’ll be hearing all about the plan to fix social care, which Johnson had “fully prepared” and “ready to go”, when he was standing outside 10 Downing Street three years ago, but which is only being made public now. We also know it is going to involve raising national insurance, a direct contradiction of an extremely clear 2019 election manifesto commitment. This can only really be described as compound bullsh*t. There was no plan, course there wasn’t, but he said there was, because he had to say something. Then there was an election to win, so you have to say you won’t raise taxes or you’ll be in big trouble.
So now he’s got to, in effect, rob Peter to pay Paul, except Peter and Paul are both lies. But it’s not a problem, as he’s only got to say the next thing that will do, and this is it.
The same base structure was there with regard to Afghanistan. All of the letters and emails and texts the various MPs read out, from terrified Afghans who had the right, and the paperwork, to come to the UK, but weren’t able to get out in time, didn’t really matter. What did matter were the “15,000 people who were brought safely to the UK”, which will, of course, come as absolutely no comfort whatsoever to those who didn’t.
This, Boris Johnson said, was all part of the UK’s “time honoured tradition of welcoming those in need”. Which is also true. It is time honoured. Arguably, over time, it has been better honoured than it is now. At the moment, “welcoming those in need” involves threatening to send them to a special welcoming centre somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, and that’s the lucky ones who made it past the high-powered wave machines they had to be talked out of installing, on the grounds that they would constitute involuntary manslaughter at the absolute bare minimum.
But that doesn’t matter. Look, Boris Johnson and co did their very best, and one thing they have at least succeeded in is lowering public expectation, and in that sense they didn’t disappoint. Because they can’t.