PMQs: Johnson throws tantrum as Starmer challenges him on flat refurb

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The Electoral Commission announced an investigation into Boris Johnson’s flat refurb with impeccable timing just an hour before PMQs today. At the session, Keir Starmer asked the inevitable question: who initially paid for the refit? Johnson has said he has now paid up, but Downing Street has refused to say who stumped up the extra £58,000 to spruce up the PM’s pad in the first place. The ‘cash for chintz‘ scandal dominated the exchange this afternoon. An incandescent Johnson did his best to bluff and bluster his way through, attempting to duck and dive the question. Starmer offered to make it easy for the PM with a simple multiple choice question: was it him, the taxpayer, a Tory donor or his party who paid? Johnson replied only that he “covered the cost”. “Somebody here isn’t telling the truth,” the Labour leader noted.

What does this scandal really tell us about our Prime Minister that we didn’t already know? There is the obvious question of why Johnson did not cover the expense of doing up his flat himself, beyond the £30,000 already provided as a grant to the PM for this purpose. Perhaps it is his well-documented “money troubles“, which the extremely well-paid MP (£81k), columnist (£275k) and now PM (£150k) has openly complained about. Maybe he is just stingy. Either way, it shows how grossly out of touch and entitled this Etonian schoolboy is.

People across the country will cast ballots in elections next week, and polling suggests that the public is beginning to take notice of the sleaze in government – flying in the face of the line diligently trotted out by ministers who claim this is a ‘Westminster bubble’ story that no normal person would care about. Will this particular scandal mean the Tories are punished at the polls on May 6th? Perhaps not. It would be a quick turnaround on a relatively new story. And while the Conservatives can be ruthless when a leader stops performing, they can also hold their nose unflinchingly and carry on with one who keeps winning elections.

But following up on the flat refurb storm is the Electoral Commission probe, and there are multiple other reviews and inquiries ongoing. Take the stories emerging now, add some time, and the stink of sleaze could start to hang heavy around this premiership. Something voters, and in turn Tory backbenchers, could come to notice. What does this all show us? A lack of political strategy and a fundamental pettiness that could eventually bring about the downfall of ‘Teflon Boris’. Johnson decided to launch a briefing war with Dominic Cummings and it is coming back to bite him, fast. It is baffling that Johnson did not think about the deep well of incriminating quotes and goings-on his former political adviser would be able to regurgitate.

Starmer was well-armed heading into the session today. The Labour leader gave the PM the space he needed for the angry outburst that only served to betray his guilt. The takeaway for most people watching will have been a red-faced Johnson trying to explain away his dubious actions while flustered and on the back foot. The story will rumble on, as the Labour ‘Tory sleaze’ attack lines will keep coming. Johnson denied his wrongdoing today and, as Starmer reminded MPs this afternoon, knowingly misleading parliament is normally a resignation offence.

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