How Angela Rayner could go from Labour’s trump card to their millstone

“She is the only politician from any party that working-class voters name as someone they like.”

One is a wealthy, Oxford-educated lawyer from North London, the other is a scrappy, working-class Northerner who quickly gets into trouble for speaking his mind.

We could be talking about Tony Blair and John Prescott here, but the description fits just as well with the current Labor leadership of Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner.

And in a week when Ms. Rayner is under more scrutiny than ever before over the controversy over a house sale, the same questions are being asked about her as they were ever asked about Prescott: Is she an invaluable asset to the party or a hopeless liability?

Ms Rayner brings to the Labor frontbench the kind of authenticity that none of her colleagues can match. Although the party’s image makers like to remind people of her rise from single teenage mother to shadow deputy prime minister, her appeal to the wider public lies in her perceived honesty, surveys show.

Pollsters say she brings flavor to politics at a time when key party leaders are as spicy as mashed potatoes, and her flat Stockport vowels provide a useful counterpoint to Sir Keir’s legal argument.

So far, her unique brand has proven immune to controversy, such as her description of the Tories as ‘scum’. It was the verbal equivalent of John (now Lord) Prescott punching a member of the public in 2001, after which Blair (now Sir Tony) said with a shrug: “John is John.”

Angela RaynerAngela Rayner

Angela Rayner with John Prescott in a photo she posted on social media to wish him a happy birthday in May 2023

Merely saying that “Angela is Angela” will not be enough to defuse the crisis facing the current Labor deputy leader as her house sales are monitored by police and her popularity with the public in the year of the general elections could well increase. real danger.

James Frayne, co-founder of policy research firm Public First, says Rayner has been a “crazy asset” for Labor so far, but her popularity could be irreparably damaged if voters decide she is not as fair and straightforward as they thought. she was.

He said: “Four or five years ago she got mixed reactions in focus groups, some people really liked her and some people didn’t, but two or three years ago she started getting brought up a lot in focus groups, unsolicited. , especially by what might be categorized as working-class swing voters.

“They described her as honest, authentic and surprisingly different, and even now she is the only politician from any party whom working-class voters name as someone they like.”

However, that could all change depending on the outcome of a police investigation into her financial affairs.

To summarize, Mrs Rayner, who bought her council house in 2007 under the Right to Buy scheme, sold it in 2015 and made a profit of £48,000. She says it was her primary residence, meaning she owed no capital gains tax on the profits.

Angela Rayner's town hallAngela Rayner's town hall

Angela Rayner made a profit of £48,000 on her Right to Buy council house

And that would have been the end of it, had it not been for the fact that five years earlier, after her marriage to Mark Rayner, she had re-registered the births of her two youngest children at his address, raising questions about whether that was the case. in reality her primary residence.

If that were the case, her former council property would be a second home and liable for CGT, as married couples can only consider one property as their main home under HMRC rules.

Mrs Rayner, who became MP for Ashton-under-Lyne the same year she sold the property, has said that, like everyone else, she simply put her house on the market, got a lawyer and an estate agent, and didn’t was aware of the HMRC rules at the time.

Since the tax questions arose, she says, she has sought advice from a tax expert who was “categorical that I don’t owe any capital gains tax”.

Sir Keir has expressed his support for his deputy’s decision not to publish that tax advice, saying he has “complete confidence” in her.

Labor insiders say Sir Keir has now come to accept that Ms Rayner is a net worthLabor insiders say Sir Keir has now come to accept that Ms Rayner is a net worth

Labor insiders say Sir Keir has now come to accept that Ms Rayner is a net gain: Eddie Mulholland

Greater Manchester Police, which initially said Ms Rayner would not be investigated, is now reviewing the case and has appointed a detective chief inspector to review the case after Tory deputy leader James Daly complained that officers had not contacted or looked at witnesses. with relevant documents.

Regardless of the outcome, Sir Keir cannot sack Ms Rayner because the deputy leaders are chosen directly by Labor members. Whether he might want that is a more interesting question.

Sir Keir sacked Ms Rayner from a role as Labor campaign co-ordinator after the 2021 Hartlepool by-election, when the Conservatives won the seat from Labor in a huge swing.

There were even rumors that Mrs. Rayner would challenge him for leadership. The following year she told the BBC that Sir Keir needed to put ‘more welly’ into his speeches, suggesting that tensions were not far beneath the surface.

Labor Party insiders say Sir Keir has now accepted Ms Rayner, who he trusts will stand in for him at Prime Minister’s Questions when Rishi Sunak is away, and that he can see her, like Prescott before her , is a net asset for him.

Labor Party Deputy Leader Angela Rayner attends Prime Minister's Questions in place of Sir Keir StarmerLabor Party Deputy Leader Angela Rayner attends Prime Minister's Questions in place of Sir Keir Starmer

Labor Party deputy leader Angela Rayner expected to attend Prime Minister’s Questions in place of Sir Keir Starmer – Jessica Taylor/AFP via Getty Images

Mrs. Rayner is much more popular than Prescott ever was, Frayne says, and more useful.

For a start, Sir Tony was much more popular than Sir Keir, and didn’t really need the support of a grumpy left winger.

Prescott’s main role was that of a bridge between New Labor and the old Labour, especially the trade unions, who always remained suspicious of the privately educated Sir Tony, preferring to associate with an outspoken former shop assistant in the form of the then MP for Kingston upon Hull. East.

Rayner, on the other hand, is a bridge between the North London dinner party that dominates Labor ideology and the Red Wall seats that defected to Boris Johnson’s Tories in 2019 and that Sir Keir must win back.

Added to the mix is ​​the fact that Sir Keir is no Sir Tony. It is no coincidence that Rayner’s sudden rise in popularity coincided with the era of Starmer and Sunak, two leaders who for many voters are so bland as to be indistinguishable.

Frayne says: “Prescott was useful for speaking to the party machine, Rayner is useful for speaking to the public. “Whether she maintains her popularity depends on whether the issue surrounding her home affects the way people see her.

“Her appeal is not based on policy or anything ideological, but because she is seen as tough, honest and truthful. Once people decide this is no longer the case, there is no going back.”

One person who knows how this works is Mr Sunak. During the pandemic he was seen by the public as honest, different and fresh, having masterminded the furlough scheme, but his involvement in Partygate and the controversy over his family finances turned voters against him and his poll numbers never recovered.

Whether Ms Rayner’s personal popularity goes the same way now appears to be in the hands of Greater Manchester Police.

Leave a Comment