Labour had Boris Johnson over a barrel, but he could still scrape the bottom of it

That noise? The sound of the bottom of the barrel being scraped. Boris Johnson not only degrades himself but the Tory backbenchers falling over themselves to defend him. Not so long ago, Conservative MPs could just about kid themselves there were no parties in Downing Street and that Big Dog’s integrity was intact. Now the game is long since up and no one even bothers to defend the lies. Apart from Chris Philp. He’ll repeat any nonsense he’s been told to say.

Instead we get ever more improbable lines from Tory MPs, who seem to have forgotten The Suspect made the laws, The Suspect broke the laws and The Suspect lied about it. Mostly along the lines of “it was only a small bit of cake”, “it wasn’t really a party”, “it was a surprise so he couldn’t be expected to remember it” and “he’s done such a brilliant job we shouldn’t be too bothered if a little bit of law breaking went on inside No 10”.

The advocates of this last excuse have been excelling themselves. We’ve had Jacob Rees-Mogg as good as admitting he couldn’t think of anything Johnson might do that would cause him to reconsider his support. Conor Burns said The Suspect had been “ambushed with a cake”. That Colin the Caterpillar can be a right bastard. Then there was Andrew Rosindell telling Sky’s Kay Burley that “it wasn’t as if he had robbed a bank or anything”. Phew.

It can’t be long before someone says “he hasn’t killed anyone, as far as I know”. En el final, this kind of feeble moral relativism drags everyone down to the bottom.

But we are where we are. And come Wednesday lunchtime, MPs of all parties appeared to be in limbo as they waited for the Sue Gray report to land on No 10’s doorstep. So prime minister’s questions had the feel of the Phoney War as both leaders seemed to pull their punches, as if they were testing each other out for weaknesses before the real battle when the two went head to head in the Commons statement in the coming hours or days.

Keir Starmer kept it simple at the start. Did the prime minister think the ministerial code – especially the section on knowingly misleading parliament – applied to him? The Suspect mumbled a quick, rather uncertain, “yes” before going on to say that he couldn’t possibly comment on matters that were the matter of a police investigation. Except he could if he wanted to. There was nothing stopping him giving a long and detailed explanation of how he was completely innocent of everything that had been alleged against him. Other than, por supuesto, that it would have been yet another lie. Then who was counting?

In which case, said the Labour leader, why didn’t The Suspect do everyone – Sue Gray and the police in particular – a favour and just resign now? In December he had said all guidance had been followed and that no parties had taken place. Now he wasn’t even bothering to pretend there had been parties, nor that he had attended them. So unless he was now pleading he had been in a fugue state for 18 months and had had no recollection of anything until Gray had reminded him, then clearly he had knowingly misled parliament. All that was missing as a coup de grace, was for Starmer to pass him a slice of cake.

The Suspect smirked and toyed with his toddler haircut, determined to appear upbeat. As much for himself as the MPs on his backbenches on whom he was depending to prolong what was left of his career. He wanted at least to go down with a semblance of fight. All hope of going with dignity had long since passed. If he had had a conscience, he would have been up to his neck in shame. For him it was still all a big joke that the police were conducting a criminal investigation into the prime minister of the UK.

What followed was a stream of unconsciousness. He rattled on about trying to stop Putin invade Ukraine, while Labour just focused on his unfortunate habit of lying about everything. Why was everyone making such a fuss about something so trivial? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Big Dog believes he only lies because other people make him do it. It didn’t seem to have occurred to The Suspect that it was him and his government that had spent virtually every waking hour for the past two months trying to protect his own job.

Nor was there any greater self-awareness as he went on to say he was cutting taxes – they were going up in April – and fixing the cost of living. Just as food and fuel prices were rising. He ended by declaring Starmer was “a lawyer not a leader”. In time he might come to realise that wasn’t such a killer line as he imagined. Not least because he might be needing the services of a top lawyer in the coming weeks. It’s also probable most voters would settle for a good lawyer running the country rather than a pathological fraud. The only thing he can be trusted with is to be untrustworthy.

The Tory benches were rather louder in their support than they had been in the past two weeks. Though this was more for show than sincerity. Most would happily knife The Suspect in the front if they thought it would play to their advantage. The loyalty is barely even skin deep. Only Sheryll Murray delivered a full on love bomb to her leader. Which was as pathetic as it was touching. Johnson ended by claiming the difference between the Tories and Labour was that he had a vision. If he does, it’s a drug-induced one. The main difference between the two parties is that the Tories are knee-deep in their own shit. And still have no real idea how to get out of it.

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