PMQs Review: The one with a message from a man called Keir

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner speaking at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner speaking at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament. - Credit: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

With Keir Starmer self-isolating, it was the turn of Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner to face Boris Johnson at the despatch box.

It could all have been so different. Had the Labour deputy leadership election gone the Corbynistas’ way, it would have been Richard Burgon facing Boris Johnson at prime minister’s questions today. Richard Burgon, the man who ran on a manifesto of setting up a Tony Benn University of Political Education and bankrupting the party by handing out its own newspaper to commuters. Richard Burgon, the only MP whose mum still sews his name into his shirts.

Unfortunately for Boris Johnson, it was Angela Rayner, who is, unlike Burgon (a) competent, (b) a woman, a breed he and his Lynx Africa using coterie have a particular problem with, and (c) not a lawyer, the profession he still appears to believe the population at large shares his unique loathing of. Even Johnson would struggle to paint Rayner, a working-class northerner with vowels as flat as the line on the PM’s Brexit deal’s life support machine, as a latte-supping Islington remainiac.
She started with a good line too, reading a message from “a man called Keir” who “wasn’t able to go to work today and his children couldn’t go to school because his family had to wait for their coronavirus test results despite the prime minister’s promise of results within 24 hours.
“Keir was able to do the right thing and self-isolate and work from home, but other people aren’t in this position - many of them are the very people getting us through this crisis.”
Adding that Johnson once earned £2,300 an hour, she asked: “So can the prime minister tell us what is the average hourly rate for a care worker in this country?”
Johnson said he understood a negative test had been returned for Sir Keir’s child, adding: “I don’t know why he is not here.” Starmer tweeted at 11.32am that the test had been negative - best of luck getting from Holborn to the Commons chamber within 28 minutes. And the PM didn’t answer the question on care home salaries (“barely more than £8 an hour,” Rayner informed him).
Johnson, whose government has spent a small fortune this summer on adverts urging people to get tested, suggested the problem was too many people wanting to get tested. “The British people, quite understandably, are responding to that system, with a huge, huge surge in demand,” he explained.
“The next time a man drives to London from Durham it’ll probably be for a Covid test,” mocked Rayner drily. A good line - Starmer needs a bit more of this.
Rayner also asked Johnson to commit to ensuring that no woman is forced to give birth alone due to coronavirus. “We’ve... heard from mothers who have had to give birth without the support of their partners or their family,” she said. Johnson, who was responsible for women giving birth without the father present long before Covid existed, was sympathetic: “Of course I’m very happy to encourage co-operation between her and my right honourable friends in the Health Department to take the matter forward.”
A final question from Rayner about the government’s priority being “restoring grouse shooting” didn’t quite land, but overall, a solid performance considering she’d never done it before. And evidence Starmer has a bit more in his armoury than just himself. Even Johnson toned down his weekly sxith-answer rant, throughout which Rayner just smiled disarmingly.
Elsewhere, Ian Blackford reminded Johnson of a column he wrote in his Telegraph days, arguing that “devolution is causing all the strains that its opponents predicted and in allowing the Scots to make their own laws while free-riding on English taxpayers, it is simply unjust”. Johnson reminded him the SNP lost the 2014 referendum, as he does at this exact time every week.
Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) raised the Internal Market Bill and called on the PM to publish the advice he has had from all his law officers. Johnson replies that “as he knows we don’t publish attorney generals’ advice,” so it’s safe to say that, if it’s not splashed all over the Sunday Times this weekend, it’s not favourable.
Finally, and on the same subject, a sterling obsequious question from a brown-nosing Tory backbencher. “Does my Right Honourable Friend agree that this government’s Internal Market Bill will protect our United Kingdom, strengthen our mission to level up and back our negotiators?,” asked Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield). And guess what? He did agree! To quote her namesake, stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.

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