Poor Sir Keir Starmer. He’s having a bad pandemic. The Labour leader was absent again at PMQs. His gifted and charismatic deputy, Angela Rayner, got another chance to display her credentials as his replacement.
Rayner, with her necklace of white beads, looked like a duchess launching a battleship. She and Boris flirted constantly, which may not be a good thing. Teasingly he said he knew that she coveted Sir Keir’s job. ‘And I wish her well.’
When she got up she leaned so far across the despatch box that she seemed ready to clamber over it and jump in his lap. He giggled and smirked back, visibly thrilled by her vitality. ‘I think the house will agree,’ he gushed, ‘she has a lot more energy than the current leader of the opposition – and I welcome her.’ She threw her hands out wide and said Labour was ready to take over any time he wanted. God! If they were left in a room together, what would happen? At one point she started rambling giddily: ‘we’re an aspirational party. Maybe the prime minister needs to be more aspirational for this country.’
That means absolutely nothing. But her gooey smile conveyed the message. The snag is that the visuals don’t match the policies. If she loathes him and believes his government is impoverishing millions, why does she beam and pout at him all the time, and latch her lasers on his hulking frame? She needs to find a dose of contempt.
The Speaker made a boob and said ‘Ed Balls’ when he meant to call Sir Ed Davey. ‘Happy New Year,’ said Sir Ed tartly. He asked the PM a rambling question about rising fuel costs that leave people ‘hungry and cold while he remains, for now at least, in the warmth and comfort of No 10.’
‘Balls,’ said Boris when he got up, ‘Balls was the word. You were right first time, Mr Speaker, your word, not mine.’
The SNP’s Ian Blackford, (who appears not to have received an exercise-bike from Santa), claimed that millions of his countrymen can’t afford to put food on the table. Luckily he isn’t one of them. His voice rose to a note of sustained petulance, like the moan of a distant strimmer, as he demanded that Boris relieve the Scots with an emergency aid package. He always makes Scotland sound poorer than Eritrea.
Energy prices dominated the session. Combined with inflation, rising bills will cripple larger families on lower incomes. And the bills are a mess, as Sammy Wilson of the DUP pointed out. Price-caps and subsidies drive the prices down. But VAT and green levies drive them back up again. Wilson, one of the few sane voices in parliament, said that green levies are used for ‘madcap schemes like Drax power station’. A billion quid is paid each year to the geniuses at Drax who ‘burn woodchips from America when there’s fuel down the road.’
Boris claimed his government was committed to ushering in a golden age of low-cost energy. Total rubbish, of course. He has an interest in making energy bills absurdly complicated, because if the voters are bamboozled they’re less likely to blame the government.