Rayner just showed slippery Starmer how it is done – it is time he stepped aside

Rayner and Dowden clash in the PMQs undercard

When it comes to verbal blows and interrogations each week you would normally put your money behind the knighted top criminal lawyer over the single mum from Stockport. But maybe you would be wrong.

Week in week out we see Sir Keir Starmer flap away at a well-prepared Rishi Sunak literally failing to land a single verbal blow when the Prime Minister has all the appearance of an easy punch bag.

Perhaps, it is because the brutal style of the Commons is more akin to a cage fight with a baying mob in attendance than a courtroom where a more clinical style is needed and there is no requirement to please the crowd.

But today – with Rishi Sunak and Starmer at the NHS 75th anniversary thanksgiving, the service across the road in Westminster Abbey, Angela Rayner, Starmer’s flamboyant deputy got to show him and their colleagues how it is done.

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After the usual pleasantries, there was no flannelling around trying to make a clever point.

She went straight for the punch in noting that she and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden will be doing this event for an almost unprecedented two weeks in a row.

“They really have given up,” she jabbed before taking the Government to task over supporting people on mortgages.

To be fair on her fellow flame-haired opponent, Dowden had no intention of being a punch bag either and almost gave as good as he got.

He went straight to the point about the rumoured impending reshuffle and briefings that Starmer wants Rayner out.

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“At least the Prime Minister trusts his deputy,” he countered to roars of “more!” from the Tory benches.

It was a joke he then repeated several times which rather watered down the impact.

But Ms Rayner went after her quarry ruthlessly with short blunt questioning.

“How can the Tories claim to be the party of home ownership anymore?” she asked after pointing out that 4,000 mortgages a day are coming up for renewal and the “Tory mortgage bombshell”.

To be fair, Starmer uses the same lines but dresses them up with seemingly endless sub-points which makes you almost forget what he is trying to say.

There was no doubt with Rayner, whose political streetfighter instincts play better in the Commons to take no prisoners environment than Starmer’s technocratic approach.

In some ways, it was a pity that SNP deputy Mhairi Black’s first question felt wasted today.

She read out two near-identical statements on using private health to back up the NHS making the point that Labour and the Tories are pretty much the same, at least in policies.

Except today it was very clear that Rayner and Dowden are nowhere near each other at all – one of those rare weeks where real Labour meets real Tory in the public gaze.

That may be the reason Starmer reportedly wants to sideline Rayner, he doesn’t like that working-class Labour and the more gritty approach to politics.

But as Dowden reminded us all today “last time [Starmer] tried to demote [Rayner] she came away with a promotion.”

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