©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

PMQs verdict: The politics behind Angela Rayner’s ‘pint-sized loser’ jibe

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With the prime minister in Germany hoping to deepen defence ties with chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government, it was left to the B-team — composed of Oliver Dowden and Angela Rayner — to man the domestic front at PMQs today.

As far as the Conservative Party was concerned, this meant an opportunity to pin down Rayner on her tax affairs — having persistently pilloried her boss about the matter in recent sessions. The deputy Labour leader, who is under investigation by the Greater Manchester Police, has denied any wrongdoing and confirmed she will stand down if she is found to have broken the law. More details here.

Tellingly, the deputy Labour leader opened PMQs today by acknowledging that the Conservative Party is “desperate to talk about my living arrangements”. Pre-empting Oliver Dowden’s criticism, Rayner continued: “Instead of obsessing over my house, when will he get a grip and show the same obsession with ending no-fault evictions?”

Stop obsessing, blasts Rayner

With his thunder somewhat stolen, the deputy PM pursued his planned line of attack nonetheless: “It is a pleasure to have another exchange with the right honourable lady, our fifth in twelve months in this House”, Dowden began, “any more of these and she’ll be claiming it as her principal residence.”

Returning to the despatch box, Rayner shifted the focus onto the government’s record on housing, pointing out the struggle households face with high mortgage rates, no-fault evictions and leasehold service charges.

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The deputy PM responded by referencing the Renters (Reform) Bill, which is due to be debated in the House of Commons this afternoon. But Dowden today was rather more interested in talking about the government’s newly announced policy to increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2030. At one point, he complained that MPs have not heard “a single word on whether [Labour] would actually back our plans to invest in our Armed Forces”.

But the session’s most memorable line came as Rayner commented on the reports that Dowden has been privately lobbying the PM to call a summer election. Rayner said she had “read with interest” that her opposite number “has been urging his neighbour in No 10 to call an election because he’s worried they might get wiped out”.

She asked: “Has he finally realised that when he stabbed Boris Johnson in the back to get his mate into Number 10, he was ditching their biggest election winner for a pint-sized loser?”

‘A pint-sized loser’

By my reckoning, this amounts to a canny ploy from Labour strategists to ensure post-PMQs headlines are dominated by Rayner’s attack lines, as opposed to questions over her tax affairs. So far, it seems to have worked.

The remark also drew audible boos from the Conservative benches — but this isn’t the first time Labour has gunned for, or subtly referenced, Rishi Sunak’s diminutive stature. Indeed, Starmer has frequently accused the PM, who stands at 5ft 6in tall, of indulging in “small politics” in recent sessions. And in January 2023, only a few months into Sunak’s premiership, the Labour leader suggested the No 10 gig was “too big” for the PM.

Today, Dowden replied that Rayner is “always looking to attack others’ failures, but never the one to take responsibility for her own” — once more bringing up the police investigation into whether she broke electoral law.

Meanwhile, Politics.co.uk‘s poll tracker, updated this morning, shows that in late April 2024, the Labour Party maintained a steady 19 per cent poll lead over the Conservatives, largely unchanged from February 2024. More here.

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