Keir Starmer was forced to self-isolate this week as one of his children displayed Covid symptoms. That test came back negative this morning but Angela Rayner stood in for the Labour leader anyway. Starmer’s message to the PM has been consistent so far: stop messing about with Brexit, deliver the deal you promised, and focus on fighting the virus. Rayner didn’t deviate from this narrative and delivered Boris Johnson a grilling on his handling of the pandemic with a particular focus on care homes. As seen with Ed Miliband’s performance in the Commons last week, having someone else rock up to debate the PM can be a good opportunity for Labour to attack Johnson slightly differently.
Rayner, a former care worker, reminded the House that the PM once earned £2,300 an hour. She asked him: “What is the average hourly rate of a care worker in this country?” Labour’s deputy slammed the PM for not knowing and explained that the average wage is “barely more than £8 an hour”, with half earning less than the real living wage. She recounted how Johnson pledged to fix the crisis in social care on his first day as PM. He also said he would provide personal protective equipment for all care workers; Covid test results within 24-hours; and a world-beating ‘test and trace’ programme, she reminded us. Quoting the chief executive of Care England, she highlighted that the government had committed to weekly testing for staff, but that too has failed to materialise. The deputy leader hammered home the many promises that the PM has given care home workers and the public. “They’ve had six months, Mr Speaker, to get this right and yet the PM still can’t deliver on his promises,” Rayner concluded.
And she juxtaposed this perfectly against the bizarre prioritisation of grouse shooting in recent days. The UK has the highest death toll in Europe and key workers can’t get tests. The country is “staring down the barrel of a second wave with no plan for the looming crisis… And what was the top priority for the Covid war cabinet this weekend? Restoring grouse shooting.” Referring to reports that the government had specifically exempted the bloodsport from the ‘rule of six’ Covid restriction, Rayner highlighted the misplaced priorities of the Tory government. Pointing out that the PM’s friend, who had funded his leadership campaign, just happened to own two grouse moor estates, she asked Johnson: “Is this really your top priority?”
Having a former care worker at Prime Minister’s Questions meant she could effectively highlight three things this afternoon: the PM has repeatedly broken promises to our low-paid, hardworking key workers; he and his Tory colleagues are painfully out-of-touch with the worries of ordinary people in this pandemic; and another crisis in care looms. Rayner’s line echoed that of Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds in Treasury questions yesterday. Steering clear of the noise on Brexit, Labour is making clear that the Tory government is in shambles over Covid because it has no clue what the average person is worried about in the pandemic. The message is clear: whether on sick pay, the ‘rule of six’ or our sorely underpaid key workers – this government does not share your priorities.