When Angela Rayner secured Labour’s deputy leadership, her authentic working-class credentials and respect from the party’s left instantly made her an important figure in Keir Starmer’s vow to reunite after the internal warring under Jeremy Corbyn. Her sacking as party chair, however, risks reopening Labour wounds that are far from healed.
While originally regarded as being on the party’s left flank when she entered parliament in 2015, Rayner has already shown some adept political skill in navigating the years of feuding. While she was seen as on the party’s left, she was also not regarded as a staunch Corbynite. Even as Corbyn’s shadow education secretary, she managed to dodge much of the warring.
Many figures in the party actually regard her politics as much more steeped in the traditional values of the trade union movement – hardly surprising, given her time working for the Unison union, which led her to the Labour party. However, her reputation as someone who can speak with authority and authenticity about the struggles faced by the low-paid pre-date her union days. Rayner left school in Stockport with no qualifications, having left after becoming pregnant at 16. She became a care worker before working for Unison.
While not part of the Corbyn inner circle, Rayner did win significant support on the left during the deputy leadership contest, pledging to “make the case for everyday socialism rooted in people’s lives”. During her time as shadow education secretary, she also drew up plans for a “national education service” comparable to the NHS. Her plans also caused controversy, however. When she backed abolishing Ofsted, party figures and the education sector more widely feared that an alternative model for monitoring schools had not been fully thought through.
Rayner, the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, could have run for the Labour leadership herself when Corbyn stood down. However, she opted to leave the path open for her friend Rebecca Long-Bailey, the favoured candidate for the left. Her allies say that despite claims she has briefed against figures in Starmer’s office, she has shown the same level of loyalty to him – despite some trying circumstances.