The contrast at prime minister’s questions today could not have been greater. In the red corner we had Angela Rayner, a fiery, northern, woman who left school at 16 vs Boris Johnson, an Old Etonian, former member of the Bullingdon Club.
With Keir Starmer out of action due to the wait for a Covid-19 test result, Westminster held its breath at the prospect of a Johnson/Rayner clash.
Some speculated that Rayner, known for her no-nonsense approach in the Commons, would “rip the PM apart” while others mused that Starmer’s absence offered a “silver lining” in a difficult week.
As it was, Rayner made a solid PMQs debut. The Stockport MP asked the tough questions, landed the occasional dig and even cracked a few jokes.
— 🌈 Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) September 16, 2020
The deputy leader began PMQs by 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”.
In a sign that Johnson may have preferred a more familiar adversary, the prime minister said that, as there had been a negative test for Sir Keir’s child, “I don’t know why he is not here”.
Ms Rayner raised the issue of salaries for care home workers – contrasting them with the sums Mr Johnson commanded as a Daily Telegraph columnist.
Fantastic PMQs from my friend Angela Rayner!
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) September 16, 2020
She then aimed a jibe at Johnson’s senior aide Dominic Cummings, saying that “the next time a man with Covid symptoms drives from London to Durham it will probably be for the nearest Covid test”.
In a final attack, she said Johnson had “no plan” for the looming winter crisis.
“What was the top priority for the Covid war cabinet this weekend? Restoring grouse shooting“, she said.
Johnson – who has frequently launched personal attacks on Sir Keir during their clashes – drew back and instead focused on her party as a whole.
The PM will not welcome another exchange with Rayner anytime soon.