THOSE who were rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of a Dominic Cummings-themed special edition of PMQs today might be slightly disappointed to find Boris Johnson adopting his usual strategy of deny/dodge/deflect. But those who tune in every week won’t be the slightest bit surprised.

The strategy here for both Keir Starmer and Ian Blackford should be to repeat the damaging claims of the PM’s former right-hand man. The trouble is that no-one trusted Cummings when he was a special advisor and no-one can be sure of his motives now. We had a drip-feed of hints about what he was likely to say, but he still has a nerve to accuse anyone else of acting irresponsibly given his own personal behaviour.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson dodges questions on Dominic Cummings at PMQs

Starmer quite rightly reminds us all that Johnson was once willing to stick his neck out to defend Cummings and encourage us to believe whatever nonsense came out of his mouth, but the Labour leader keeps framing his questions poorly. Does the PM agree his government failed? Does he agree they fell disastrously short? Well surprise surprise, no, he doesn’t agree, but he does take the opportunity to emphasise how difficult all the decisions were and trumpet about the success of the vaccine rollout. Starmer is “fixated as ever with the rearview mirror,” he complains, while the public just want him to get on with the job at hand. Does he forget that “the public” includes people who have lost loved ones in the past 14 months?

“I can see that the evidence of his former advisor is really getting to the Prime Minister,” says Starmer, although in truth there’s little evidence of this. Johnson got far more angry and out of control last month when he was being grilled about how he paid for his wallpaper.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson 'wanted to be injected with Covid-19 on live TV'

Starmer builds up to some of Cummings’ more damning claims, calling into question the honesty of Health Secretary Matt Hancock and suggesting Johnson delayed a circuit-breaker lockdown because Covid was "only killing 80-year-olds". The PM is careful not to give a straight answer about the latter, so we can take it as given that he said it. Will this make the slightest difference to his approval ratings? I doubt it. The talk about bodies being piled high didn't.

Johnson is calmer still when answering Ian Blackford’s questions, saying he accepts full responsibility for everything his government has done but that he "doesn’t recognise" the picture painting by Cummings of the pandemic being treated as a big joke.

Apart from a random diversion about an alpaca, the standard of questions is strong this week, covering everything from child poverty and corporation tax to fair compensation for wrongly convicted sub-postmasters. The SNP's Angus Brendan MacNeil asks why the UK Government would block an independence referendum in Scotland when the EU respected the UK’s right to choose, but of course we get “respecting the 2014 result” and “once in a generation” in response.

Concluding what was a surprisingly muted PMQs – given much of it was spent referencing the deaths of thousands of UK citizens – Labour’s Zarah Sultana speaks with barely contained anger about the killing of Palestinians by Israeli forces, challenging Johnson to “look me in the eye and tell me British-made weapons weren't used to kill these three children”. A commotion results, but the gasps of horror have nothing to do with the question posed (which the PM dodges). No, these are gasps of disapproval that Sultana has broken House of Commons rules by using a “prop”, ie photographs of the children in question.

If Johnson was to be confronted with pictures of UK Covid victims, perhaps he would be less likely to dismiss questions about his government’s astonishing incompetence as “fixating with the rearview mirror”. And perhaps in his next briefing broadcast he will look us all in the eye and tell us that nothing Dominic Cummings is saying is true.