Champagne socialism is back, Dominic Raab quipped, and shot Angela Rayner a wink. Eek! HENRY DEEDES watches the two stand-ins going head-to-head at PMQs
Angela Rayner walked into the Commons in a pair of heels decorated with panda bears. The creatures had big, black eyes, button noses and sweet little baby-doll eyelashes.
But there was nothing so cutesy-wutesy about Angela’s performance. As ever, Labour’s deputy leader was like a cavalryman’s blunderbuss – loud, unsubtle and wildly inaccurate. But by ’eck she lets the enemy knows she’s there.
With Boris Johnson still globetrotting with other world leaders, Ms Rayner was up against the deputy PM Dominic Raab at PMQs. Sir Keir Starmer had absented himself visiting the blameless folk of Crawley, while quietly fretting over Durham Constabulary’s upcoming verdict on Beergate.
Dominic Raab, stepping in for Boris at PMQs, said ‘Champagne socialism is back in the Labour Party!’ and shot Angela Rayner a wink as if to say: ‘Nothing personal’
Barbs: A smirk from Labour deputy Angela Rayner as Raab jokes about Sir Keir Starmer
Boris, by the way, is said to be just as nervous. Imagine the disaster if Starmer does go after being fined, and Labour selects a new leader – perhaps a brassy, female northern one – who doesn’t put voters to sleep?
Mr Raab does not entirely relish these bouts. He arrived in the chamber ten minutes before the off, gingerly poking his head around the door to survey the battlefield before skulking away again. He then returned five minutes later, shuffling to his seat with all the eagerness of a man attending an appointment with his proctologist.
Opposite him, Rayner plonked herself down, flicked her hair and exchanged jovial banter with the Speaker. She glanced over at the government front bench, eyeing each of one them like a gourmet ogling the cheese trolley.
She kicked off with last week’s two by-elections, in which the Tory candidates were roundly trounced.
‘It’s no wonder that the Prime Minister has fled the country and left the honourable member to carry the can,’ she remarked. Bit rum: the PM is undertaking urgent meetings with G7 and Nato chiefs, trying to avert World War Three.
Heel be sorry, warns Angela
Just before PMQs, Miss Rayner posted a picture of her novelty shoes on social media and said: ‘I know Dominic Raab is a karate black belt and everything – but I’ve got my kung fu pandas on and I’m ready.’
Predictably, Rayner then raised the Prime Minister’s claim that he intended to remain in office until 2030. She wondered if the Cabinet would be able to prop him up for that long.
Raab hopped to his feet. He’d anticipated this line of attack. He joked that he and the rest of the frontbench did want the PM to go on – and a lot longer than she wanted her own leader to last in his job.
Tory backbenchers erupted with delight. ‘More!’ they screamed.
Mr Raab, I’m afraid, is not primus inter pares when it comes to wit. Some would in fact go so far as to describe him as an earth-shuddering, T-Rex-sized bore, but this jibe was a goody.
The tiniest of grins stretched across Ange’s face. Game on. She was back on those novelty heels, launching herself across the dispatch box, throwing her arms forward in long, stabbing motions. Shades of Fatima Whitbread aiming for the javelin world record.
‘Call a general election and see where the people are!’ she screamed. Maria Callas in her prime would have struggled to match the volume.
Back and forth the barbs continued to be tossed – far more aggressive than anything you’ll see on Centre Court this week. Yet never did the exchanges slide into unpleasantness.
Even when Raab produced the not-so-secret ace lurking up his sleeve – Rayner being spotted quaffing champagne on the lawns at Glyndebourne last week – his jab was rather jovial: ‘Champagne socialism is back in the Labour Party!’ Just before he did so, he shot Rayner a wink as if to say: ‘Nothing personal.’
Eek. Echoes of David Cameron’s patronising ‘calm down dear’ put down of Angela Eagle. Labour never let Dave forget that Commons clanger. Again, Rayner smiled, owning the moment rather than falling victim to it. Another thing Starmer could learn from her.
The only genuinely uncomfortable frisson between the two of them came when Rayner castigated Raab for going Awol during last summer’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal, when he should have been back in the Foreign Office helping with the evacuation.
‘Where was the honourable member [during] the situation in Afghanistan?’ she demanded.
‘On a sun lounger, that’s where. I’ll take no lectures from [him].’
That seemed to sting the deputy PM for a moment. But then, quite frankly, so it should.
Anyway, back to normal next week. But let’s hope Boris is called away again soon. This was the best PMQs this year by a mile.
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