The firecracker and the damp squib stood in at PMQs today. With Boris abroad, the deputies took to the dispatch box.
Angela Rayner and Dominic Raab have certain qualities in common. Both are eyeing the leadership of their parties and both are keen to offer a contrast with the present incumbent. The pendulum of popularity tends to swing in predictable directions. The dashing showman is often succeeded by the dead-safe dullard. Major after Thatcher. Brown after Blair. Why not Raab after Boris? And Angela Rayner’s eye-catching flamboyance would be a welcome change from the dreary swattishness of Sir Keir Starmer.
Today was all about appearances. Raab will be pleased to note that he played to a half-empty house and bored everyone rigid. That was his plan all along – to seem sober, pragmatic, risk-averse and eminently trustworthy. Not for him the improvised gag or the extravagant literary metaphor. He delivered his answers like Britain’s most insipid fire-safety expert. An excellent day at the office.
Rayner gave a more complicated performance. She was dolled up to the nines in her hen-do finery. High heels, a cream frock, and her combed auburn tresses plunging dramatically to her waistline. She looked as if she’d spent three hours in make-up. And the supermodel glow was at variance with her rhetorical theme. She wanted to fight Raab on the class war battlefield and to portray him as a rich, out-of-touch toff but she was done up like a catwalk superstar while talking about ‘families working themselves into the ground.’ It wasn’t a good fit.
She sought to humiliate Raab by reminding us that he was on a luxury holiday when the Afghan crisis erupted last month. So she set him a little arithmetic test.