Keir Starmer tested positive for coronavirus yesterday. The Labour leader has been doing lateral flow tests every day, although he last had Covid less than three months ago (it has been speculated that he had Delta last time and Omicron on this occasion). While the official guidance says nobody should be tested within 90 days of contracting Covid as confirmed by a PCR, unless they develop new symptoms, Starmer’s spokesperson quite sensibly pointed out: “Well, as the test has shown, he has got Covid within 90 days of having had it before, so I’m not quite sure how else we would have been able to know that he had Covid without doing the test.”
Unfortunately for the Labour leader, he often seems to enter self-isolation – this will be his sixth period of it – on the morning of an important day in parliament. Last time, it was ‘Budget Day’, which saw Ed Miliband and Rachel Reeves step up; yesterday, it was the first day back of the new year and the first PMQs of 2022. This time, Angela Rayner filled in, and offered a characteristically energetic performance, which Boris Johnson remarked upon, saying she has “a gigawatt more energy” than “her friend from Holborn”. (“I’ve no doubt that Keir will have been entirely happy and proud of the way in which she represented the party at Prime Minister’s question time this afternoon,” Starmer’s spokesperson later said.)
In another bid to sow division between Labour’s leadership teams, the Prime Minister cheekily suggested Rayner would rather have his job in future than that of deputy PM. “I’ve heard on the grapevine that there might be a vacancy for Prime Minister soon, so maybe I should have aspirations,” Rayner hit back. Some thought this comment was revealing, but her main point highlighted an uncomfortable truth for the Prime Minister. Johnson’s attacks on the opposition during the session – from claiming Labour wants to rejoin the EU to repeating the argument that we would still be in lockdown under a Labour government – made clear the pressure he is under from his backbenchers. While Johnson is distracted by Conservative Party tensions, Labour is looking outwards and forwards. The opposition has a focus this year, as evidenced by Starmer’s speech this week and Rayner’s PMQs turn: the cost of living crisis, described by Labour’s deputy as the “iceberg right ahead”. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.