Sir Keir Starmer was never bad at PMQs, and has got better. His questions have become shorter, which makes them harder to evade.
Today he demanded “absolute certainty” about which countries we can and cannot visit.
Absolute certainty is probably not attainable when dealing with a pandemic, but that is no reason why the Leader of the Opposition should not demand it.
Even those of us who loathe airports, and are not keen on going on holiday in countries where it is too hot to go for a walk, can see that the Government ought to be taking reasonably clear precautions to stop the import of new and possibly more dangerous versions of the virus.
But Boris Johnson has never liked allowing himself to be imprisoned within a framework of rules about where he can go on holiday, or indeed about anything else. Nor does he feel any enthusiasm for tying his compatriots into such a straitjacket.
He too started well at PMQs, and has got better. Today he evaded without much difficulty Sir Keir’s attempts to tie him down.
The Prime Minister knows that perhaps the most important thing he can do at these weekly jousts is to show fighting spirit. He was energetic, and rose on his toes as he jabbed his points home with his arm.
At the end of PMQs, he was challenged by Justin Madders (Lab, Ellesmere Port and Neston) to provide “a straight answer” about whether or not the Government has a plan for social care.
“Yes,” Johnson said, without revealing what the plan is. He instead said that when it is unveiled, the Labour Party can decide “if they want to support it with their customary doughty resolve, Mr Speaker…without wibble-wobbling from one week to the next…without changing like weathervanes.”
What cheek! The PM had turned Sir Keir’s accusation of lack of certainty back against Labour.
The House was a bit fuller, the rules on social distancing having been relaxed. By the time those wretched rules have been scrapped, and the House again has standing room only for PMQs, it would be good if Sir Keir and his team could bend their great minds to thinking of the odd joke which might get Conservative MPs laughing at their own leader.
Easy to urge this from, as it were, the gallery. Difficult to do in practice. But a few jokes of that kind would do wonders for Labour morale, and make it harder to dismiss the Leader of the Opposition as an arid lawyer.
One jibe at Johnson’s expense which was good enough to be repeated in the pub would be worth any number of documentary films showing what a regular guy Sir Keir is.
Ian Blackford, appearing by video link from Skye, presented himself “as a member of Scotland’s crofting community” – an irresistible target for the PM, who said he was “delighted to see the state of his croft”.
Blackford accused Johnson of “threatening to throw our farmers and our crofters under the Brexit bus”. The PM retorted that “our food exports are second to none”, and under free trade will thrive.
He might also have remarked that crofters have long found it necessary to diversify, for example by welcoming impressionable tourists such as himself who are entranced by the romance of the Scottish Highlands.