PMQs: Angela Rayner urges change of course to avoid cost of living “disaster”

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

With Keir Starmer out of action after testing positive for coronavirus for a second time, it was Angela Rayner who faced up to Boris Johnson during today’s Prime Minister’s Questions. The deputy leader focused on the deepening cost of living crisis, a topic on which Labour reckons it can land significant blows. Her opening salvo centred on Johnson’s comment in October that fears about inflation were “unfounded”. How had he got it so wrong, given the “rising bills and ballooning prices” working people are currently facing? Johnson denied ever having made the comment – “I said no such thing,” he hit back – and refused to correct the record despite video evidence.

When Johnson emphasised his “balanced and proportionate approach” to the pandemic, as evidenced by its championing of the booster programme and decision to stick with Plan B, Rayner responded with a barrage of criticism of the current state of the Conservative Party. Bringing the discussion swiftly back to the cost of living crisis, she asked how Johnson planned to get a grip on the situation. Johnson made a joke about one of Rayner’s many job titles: what future job might the Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work be looking for, Johnson wondered, poking fun at Starmer in his absence. But the Labour frontbencher had a dig of her own: she’d heard that there may be an opening for Prime Minister soon.

Rayner persisted with the cost of living argument, telling MPs that rising energy bills would force working families to take the rap for Johnson’s incompetence. She ruthlessly quoted the Prime Minister back to himself on his promise to cut VAT on energy bills, asking Johnson whether he would stand up to his Chancellor on the issue, further fanning the flames of conflict between No 10 and No 11 – just as Johnson had done with the divides between the Labour leader’s office and the deputy’s team. In response, he criticised the “bare-faced cheek” of Rayner for saying she wanted to cut VAT when she had campaigned to remain in the EU – and falsely claimed that Labour planned to rejoin the EU.

Starmer’s deputy warned of an “iceberg right ahead” on cost of living and urged the government to change course. In her final question, she stressed that the country needs “serious solutions” but instead has “this Prime Minister and his incompetent leadership”. Proving her point, Johnson appeared flustered during the session compared to a confident Rayner, who seemed to revel in her opponent’s discomfort. The Prime Minister’s repetitions, hesitations and (to use his own adjective) “bare-faced” lies only served to highlight the pressure under which he currently finds himself – from his party, the opposition and the public. Rayner smelled blood and didn’t hold back.

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