Back to the 90s as Sunak and Starmer’s deputies stand in (again)

Prime minister’s questions: a shouty, jeery, very occasionally useful advert for British politics. Here’s what you need to know from the latest session in POLITICO U.K.’s weekly run-through.

THANKS, NATO: For the second week running, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour’s Keir Starmer were missing in action at PMQs — thanks to the former’s starring role at the NATO summit in Vilnius. That left us with the dubious honor of watching deputies Oliver Dowden and Angela Rayner have a pop at each other.

History lesson: Rayner pointed out that the last time a PM missed two of these sessions in a row was … March 1996.

Alternative history lesson: Dowden made the reasonable excuse that Sunak is at the big military summit — before claiming that, under Rayner’s old boss and former leader Jeremy Corbyn, Labour would have abandoned Ukraine (probably not really true but hey, it’s PMQs) … Leave NATO (not true) … and abolish the army (really not true).

What they sparred about: A mixture of housing policy and child poverty. Rayner came armed with new stats that show rising bills and mortgage costs are pushing more families to the brink, while Dowden pointed to continuing government support for households.

But in reality: It was mostly low-energy digs at Labour’s “union paymasters” and the “magic money tree” from Dowden and references to ex-PM Boris Johnson (who left office *checks notes* more than a year ago) from Rayner. Is it recess yet?

PMQs not pointless klaxon: The SNP’s Pete Wishart put Dowden on the spot over the painting over — as ordered by minister Robert Jenrick — of cartoon wall art for children at an asylum reception centre. Wishart asked Dowden to show real compassion and to condemn the painting over — but Dowden opted not to, instead speaking up for government migration policy and arguing that “real compassion looks like stopping the vile people smuggling trade across the Channel.” Expect to hear more about this one.

PMQs might be pointless klaxon: Tory MP Duncan Baker asked Dowden if he would join him in pressuring the Natural England body to move a family of nesting seagulls from a telecoms mast in the Norfolk Broads.

Totally non-scientific scores on the door: Historically standing room-only for PMQs, the Commons voted with their feet today and left the Chamber barely 2/3rds full. In hindsight, you could see why.

Dowden 4/10 … Rayner 5/10 Recess anticipation 100/10.