Profile: Angela Rayner

Angela Rayner, Labour MP for Ashton-Under-Lyne and Shadow Education Secretary, hit the headlines a couple of weeks ago when she became a grandmother at 37. I was struck by the unusual story: Rayner left school pregnant at 16 and became a care worker for the elderly and disabled to support her son. She then became a trade unionist with Unison and rose through the ranks there, eventually ending up as the youngest-ever Shadow Education Secretary and the youngest grandparent in the House of Commons! ‘It does qualify me as proper working-class and Jeremy Kyle’, she joked in an interview with the Guardian.

 

I wanted to learn more about Rayner, so I did some research, reading interviews with her and watching her speak at various events. What struck me more than anything were the comments about her. In a YouTube video titled ‘ANGELA RAYNER exposed by Andrew Neil – Daily Politics 30XI16’ where Rayner admittedly struggles, relying too heavily on political jargon, the comments section was overwhelmed with sexist and classist remarks:

 

‘Did she get someone to cover her shift at Farmfoods?’

 

‘Shadow Education Secretary who left school with ZERO qualifications and pregnant . Oh dear’

 

 ‘She is not very articulate lol. Yorkshire lass haha’ (A particularly upsetting comment to a fellow Northerner as her accent is clearly MANCUNIAN)

 

‘This sad bitch should be kept at home for her safety and the safety of others. Add Thornberry, Abbott, Lucas and many more to that category..’

 

‘angela raynor....thick little britain chav’

 

‘Rayner is a fucking joke. Fat, ugly and talks like a miner’

 

‘My mother would say she sounds 'dog rough'.’

 

I could go on… Almost every single comment was about her appearance or her accent. I was shocked to discover that people equate Northern accents with stupidity. The amount of times the word ‘thick’ was mentioned was interesting, as Rayner is clearly anything but thick.

 

She is self-educated about complicated matters. She was not taught how to be a politician, but understood and interpreted the world she grew up in, clearly thinking more deeply than I’m sure Boris Johnson has ever had to.

 

Having to look after her mother at home, who couldn’t read or write and suffered from Bipolar Disorder, Rayner has explained how school was a place she went to be fed, and to get away from the responsibilities of home-life for a while. She joined a trade union because of ‘the conditions that often make headlines today’ in her care work, and the Labour Party ‘because it was clear that bigger change was needed than [she] could bring as a union rep’. She did not learn how to be a politician at school; her passion for working people comes, shockingly, from working. In her own words: ‘The posh schools have debating chambers, for me the debating chamber was the playground.’

 

Rayner champions the Sure Start Centres set up by the last Labour government, which helped her back into education after having a baby at 16. In her passionate speech at the Labour Party Conference she explains how they ‘transformed my son’s childhood and made sure that his life would not have to be as hard as mine had been’. Although loyal to Corbyn, Rayner is an independent, pragmatic thinker; she praises the Blair government because it changed her life. She has also recently spoken out against the wave of deselections of councilors that the Corbyn supporters are perusing, again demonstrating her characteristic autonomy. Additionally, while the Corbynites are set on scrapping tuition fees, Rayner understands that this will mostly benefit the middle classes, instead calling for more investment in early years education, where it has been shown funding makes the biggest difference. Her Socialism is researched, grounded in real-life experience. ‘Ideology’, she explains ‘never put food on my table’.

 

Rayner has been suggested on more than one occasion as a potential next leader of the Labour Party. To see a woman who grew up on a council estate in Stockport, with a broad Northern accent and a background in care work as leader of the Labour Party would make a massive difference to the world of politics. Corbyn is a true Socialist, but Rayner is a Socialist not by ideology, but because she has seen what Socialism can achieve.

 

Rayner is not to be dismissed because of her background. Neither is she to be considered a token: ‘People still look down on me; they like me as a trinket . . . it’s nice to have me round the table because it gives authenticity’. She should be taken seriously; what she has already achieved at her age is remarkable. She was the first woman to represent Ashton-Under-Lyne in Parliament, and previously held the positions of Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and Shadow Minister for Pensions at the same time. She is outspoken, extremely smart and empathetic, and certainly one to watch for the Labour Party Leader position.