Boris Johnson says move along now, Emily Maitlis takes the night off…

Only she wasn’t…

Boris Johnson always looks like he’s just been pulled through a hedge-fund backwards.

In his Zoom-funded appearance yesterday before the Commons liaison committee, he wore suit, tie and trademark smirk. As usual his hair and pasty demeanour revived memories of the last time you rolled out of bed with a hangover.

This powerful committee has the right to summon prime ministers two or three times a year. This was Johnson’s first appearance, something he only agreed to after installing the Tory MP and Brexit brother Bernard Jenkin as committee chair.

Johnson presumably thought that behind-the-scenes fix would give him an easy ride; happy to report that this was far from the case.

May, Cameron and Blair always turned up having done their homework (even lazy boy Cameron, for heaven’s sake); they all came with answers for the questions they were likely to be asked.

Johnson prepared only for a spot of improv politics – make it up as you go along, bluster, stutter and blunder, charm the pants off the boys and girls on the committee; job done, go home for a lie down. It was lamentable, careless and disrespectful.

God, and to think the Boris backers told us all how great he’d be, a natural-born charmer and wit, a spot of fun after old wooden-legs Theresa.

Turns out he’s useless, barely able to string a coherent sentence together, like the lead actor in a play who tells the director he’d not bothered with the script as learning scripts is for girly swot actors.

Johnson was asked about his shameless aide but dismissed an inquiry into the way Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules with that 260-mile drive to Durham. His response was essentially “move along now, nothing to see here”.

Cummings, given the Downing Street rose garden and a trestle table to make a statement, droned out his own version of that tatty tune: all those lies the newspapers printed about me were true but if you’re expecting an apology, you can whistle.

All hail Labour’s Yvette Cooper for accusing Johnson of “putting your political concerns ahead of clear public health messages” to protect Cummings (whom Johnson only ever referred to as his ‘adviser’: is he jealous of all the attention Cummings has been getting?).

Over at the BBC, some committee of faceless bosses issued a statement condemning one of its own flagship news programmes.

Tuesday’s Newsnight had opened with Emily Maitlis giving a crisp summary of the programme and the state of the nation, saying that “the country can see” Cummings had “broken the rules”.

The BBC said the programme’s staff and been reminded about its guidelines and added that it should have been made clear the remarks were “a summary of the questions we would examine”. The thing is, pusillanimous BBC bosses, that was perfectly clear to anyone with a few brain cells rubbing along together.

Did the BBC make this statement after pressure from Downing Street? No one is saying, but it seems likely, as this government has a Trump-like disdain for the media. Stories about the pandemic often receive what Paul Lewis, the Guardian’s head of investigations, this week called treatment that verges on “trolling via government press offices”.

Maitlis is one of the BBC’s stars and deserves better treatment than she received. Although the woman herself tweeted that she’d asked for the night off and was happy to see Katie Razzall present the show.

Surely the BBC could have quietly ticked off the show’s editor and announced that it was reviewing that edition of Newsnight – rather than rushing out a statement seemingly designed to appease right-wing commentators.

Whatever the case, I hope the BBC keeps hold of Emily Maitlis as she is a great journalist and a pin-sharp presenter. If they don’t, she’ll be snapped up by Sky or someone else.

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