Angela Rayner transformed today’s PMQs into a history lesson. The deputy Labour leader took the House of Commons back to 1996 and channelled John Prescott, asking Oliver Dowden, the Deputy Prime Minister, who “is no Heseltine”, the same questions as her predecessor.
She pointed out that “tens of thousands of families are facing repossession and homelessness”, as Prescott did 27 years ago, and mimicked Theresa May’s “nothing has changed” shrug as a final flourish.
Dowden, who was standing in for Rishi Sunak for the second week in a row because the Prime Minister is attending a Nato summit, replied with a dig about Jeremy Corbyn supporting UK withdrawal from the military alliance. He went on to say that he would “take no lectures” – a politician’s favourite retort when they’ve little to say – on home ownership from Labour after Margaret Thatcher’s introduction of the Right to Buy.
Rayner then pressed Dowden on child poverty and homelessness, asking the deputy PM if he was ashamed of the government’s record and if he knew how much the number of homeless children had risen by since 2010. “We can exchange numbers over the dispatch box,” Dowden said, making clear he did not know the answer.
Rayner told him that 400,000 more children of primary school age were growing up in poverty and there had been a 75 per cent rise in child homelessness. “The single best route out of poverty is a job and record numbers of people – four million more people – under this government have got a job,” countered Dowden.
He then referenced reports that Keir Starmer had told the shadow cabinet “I hate tree huggers” with a convoluted joke about the Labour leader “hugging the magic money tree”. And, alluding to speculation over a Labour reshuffle, he joked about Rayner “auditioning” for Prescott’s job (the party has not confirmed whether Rayner would become deputy PM in a Labour government).
The two traded blows on the cost of living before Rayner rounded off the punchy session by quoting Prescott’s words to Heseltine in 1996: “How can the right honourable gentleman be so complacent in the face of the sheer misery caused by his government’s policies? Twenty seven years on, why are we asking the exact same thing?”
Dowden, once again left struggling, riposted that Labour was standing in people’s way, with Just Stop Oil “blocking our roads”, “union paymasters stopping our trains” and Sadiq Khan’s “hated Ulez (Ultra Low Emission Zone) stopping cars across our capital”. But with problems mounting and a 13-year reign in office to defend – “he talks about balancing the books, his party crashed the economy,” Rayner boomed at one point – it is increasingly absurd for the Conservatives to blame anyone but themselves.