Angela Rayner had an enjoyable six rounds against Dominic Raab as their pair deputised for their respective party leaders at Prime Minister’s Questions today. She didn't lack material, for one thing: the energy crisis, the universal credit cut and of course the deputy Prime Minister's luxury holiday in Crete all gave Rayner plenty to pummel Raab with. He didn't respond well.
Throughout the row over his badly-timed holiday, Raab showed a tendency to make things worse by trying to quibble over the details. He did so again today: he could quite easily have ignored a throwaway line from Rayner about him reportedly squabbling with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss over who gets Chevening, but instead couldn’t resist pointing out that it is ‘funded by a charity’. Not only was this a dry comeback in a session that was always going to be a knockabout rather than a nerdy debate about policy, it was also not a very good way of making a gossip story go away.
Rayner’s focus was on the government failing to support people whose energy bills are going up and whose universal credit payments are about to go down. She complained that the government was doing nothing to help people across the country. Raab didn't answer many of her questions (except to clarify the funding of Chevening), which is hardly unusual at PMQs. It’s just that Boris Johnson tends to dodge questions with some aplomb, rather than by sounding like he’s reading out the next stops on a train journey.
Later in the session, Raab did commit some news, announcing that as the new Justice Secretary he was committed to introducing the long-awaited Victims’ Bill. His approach today may well have been to survive the exchanges with Rayner, while the Labour deputy leader was probably more keen to show off her skills ahead of a difficult party conference for Keir Starmer. On those different measures, both she and Raab will have come away from the session satisfied.