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16 September 2020

What happened when Angela Rayner took on Boris Johnson at PMQs

Labour’s deputy leader showed no nerves at her first PMQs but Boris Johnson denied her the fight she wanted.

By Ailbhe Rea

Angela Rayner was undaunted by her first PMQs appearance

When it was announced that Labour’s deputy leader would be standing in for Keir Starmer while he awaited a Covid-19 test result for a member of his household (which has now come back negative), the world of politics held its breath in anticipation of this unique PMQs pairing: Angela Rayner, a sparky, northern, woman who left school at 16, vs Boris Johnson, a former member of the Bullingdon Club. Commentators were quick to speculate that Rayner would rip the Prime Minister to pieces, noting that he sometimes struggles to strike the right tone against female opponents, while others joked that the replacement of Starmer with Rayner was “a silver lining” for Johnson amid the ongoing testing crisis.

But with the eyes of Westminster on her, Rayner showed no sign of nerves as she took to the despatch box for her first question. She opened with a quip about their encounter being “the real Battle of Britain”, and seemed to enjoy herself as she began with a “a message from a man called Keir”. And her first question provided exactly the response she was seeking: that Boris Johnson doesn’t know the salary of a care worker. 

… But Boris Johnson denied her the fight she was sporting for

Perhaps in response to a bruising appearance in the Commons on Monday evening against Ed Miliband, or perhaps as a shrewd approach to facing a woman at the despatch box, or perhaps for both reasons, Johnson took a markedly different approach to PMQs today. Far from the head-shaking indignance and performative anger that tend to characterise his appearances, the Prime Minister remained resolutely calm, and unusually remarked: “I perfectly understand. She is perfectly right.” This was his repeated response to Rayner’s questions over care homes, testing shortages and women labouring alone: a concilatory tone that blocked Rayner from progressing to the more heated exchange she clearly hoped for. Johnson continued in this vein in response to a question from Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse over concerns about the impact that the government’s obesity strategy will have on those with eating disorders. The change of tone could serve the Prime Minister well in future weeks.

The government is launching a Winter Care Home Action Plan

The Prime Minister announced that the government has launched a “Winter Care Home Action Plan” today to prepare care homes for a winter spike of coronavirus. This is what Labour has been calling for for days. The plan itself has yet to materialise online, and details have yet to be provided.

The coronavirus rules may have broken international law

In a week where international law has featured heavily, the new Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey raised advice that suggests that coronavirus legislation may have broken international law by curbing the rights of disabled people. The PM said he was unaware of the issue, and encouraged Davey to write to him.

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