It’s Wednesday and much like COP26, Prime Minister’s Questions is a reminder that the world is terrible and bound to get worse. Labour leader Keir Starmer is still self-isolating with Coronavirus (easily his most likeable moment in a year), so is replaced by Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, who once again had the opportunity to show just what a talent the Labour leadership decided to alienate for absolutely no reason.
Rayner’s performance was self-assured and energetic – as the Prime Minister himself noted, in what was probably his best moment of an otherwise lackluster showing. Rayner found very strong attack points on sleaze and tax. She also, most importantly, remembered that the point of a dividing line is to be used and repeated as often as possible, unlike Starmer’s esoteric approach of sprinkling it around for a little while and then never again. It is not known how much better an Angela Rayner-led Labour party would do – and certainly, it is not like the Deputy Leader has no flaws or is short on enemies in the PLP – but in this most fundamental aspect of communication, it would be an obvious improvement.
The Prime Minister obviously struggles with tackling a Labour party represented by a woman. Dominic Cummings, in a rant that was half toxic social conservatism and half genuinely interesting insights into how to hurt the government, said Boris Johnson’s weaknesses with women (the reader is welcome to their own quip, The Social Review will refrain) are well known. The Prime Minister is obviously tense when answering a question put by Rayner. There is a sort of anxiety around the fact that he cannot be seen to be either too oafish or too condescending to her. Johnson is at his best as a performer when he is free to be himself; a certain fearlessness in the face of ridicule. In this PMQ he clearly had to force himself to concentrate in a way that does not come naturally, and at times did sound both too condescending or oafish.
So would Labour woes be sorted by choosing a woman opponent willing to hit hard on crime and other issues of security, as Cummings seems to think? He might point to the fact that Rayner used one of her questions on the armed forces, and did quite well on it. But the answer is- not really; it is always worth remembering the primary function for PMQs is party management and reaffirming narratives the press is already running with. But as always with this Prime Minister, the vulnerabilities are known and clear to be exploited; all it would take is someone willing to press on it.
Joker of the week: You, a Labour member who voted for the one man in the leadership race (and a joker you have been every week since 1900!).
Watch out for: The insistence by the government that adjustments to Universal Credit’s taper rate more than compensate for the cut.
Did it provide entertainment or accountability: Obviously not
The real winner: Dominic Cummings, who is going to retweet his Substack article six times on the back of this.