Steerpike Steerpike

Cabinet mask-off as Sir Keir self-isolates (again)

Oh dear. Poor Keir Starmer has tested positive for Covid meaning he has to miss today’s Budget. Unlike Boris, he has managed to avoid getting ill until now but it’s the fifth time he has been forced to self-isolate after four previous incidents. Starmer’s absence means that shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves will be forced to step in to deliver the response to Rishi Sunak’s speech, while Prime Ministers’ Questions will be fronted by Ed Miliband. Ahead of COP26, it looks like Labour intend to show their eco-credentials by recycling their old leaders too…

On the Tory side, a different Covid row dominates: the ongoing saga about masks. The Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg faced off last week against Health Secretary Sajid Javid after the latter endured an awkward press conference about Tory MPs refusing to wear them on the green benches. After Javid told hacks that MPs ‘have a role to play to set an example’ a number of loyalist ministers were seen the following day proudly sporting their face coverings, despite Mogg’s breezy assertions at the despatch box that ‘there is no advice to wear face masks in workplaces.’

And today — with the Commons crowded ahead of Rishi’s big moment — that split amongst ministers is well in evidence on the front bench. As PMQs began, Mr S spied that the divide goes right to the top of the party with Rees-Mogg, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson the biggest beasts to proudly sport their uncovered faces. Rishi Sunak, Mark Spencer, Therese Coffey, Sajid Javid, Alister Jack and Dominic Raab preferred to keep such coverings on. Grant Shapps meanwhile was spotted at the beginning of the session not wearing one but later put one on.

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