Labour leadership: Who is Angela Rayner and what are her key policies?

Victory for MP told she would ‘never amount to anything’ after becoming pregnant at 16 and leaving school without qualifications

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Saturday 04 April 2020 13:09
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Angela Rayner addresses winning Labour deputy leadership race

Angela Rayner has won the race to be Labour’s deputy leader, a result that has long felt almost inevitable.

The shadow education secretary built a commanding early lead which she sustained throughout the 12-week contest, despite running a relatively low-profile campaign.

Rayner clearly struggled with the idea of being the frontrunner, saying in interviews that she had spent her life as the “underdog”, facing hurdles that many of her parliamentary colleagues could never imagine.

Indeed, in a parliament often derided as pale, male and stale, Rayner has long stood out.

Born in Stockport, in Greater Manchester, in 1980, Rayner was raised on a council estate by her mother Lynn, who struggled with depression and could not read or write. From a young age, Rayner acted as a carer for her mother, at times having to bathe and feed her.

At one point, Rayner was forced to have her mother admitted to a mental health ward because she was struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Rayner has spoken movingly about being told she would “never amount to anything” after becoming pregnant at 16 and leaving school without any qualifications. She credits New Labour’s Sure Start centres, where she took a parenting course, with helping her find her feet.

Showing the determination that would later power her political career, Rayner went to college part time and then got a job as one of the youngest home helps in Stockport.

She became a trade union representative, later rising to become Unison’s most senior official in the northwest.

In 2015 Rayner was elected as MP for Ashton-under-Lyne. In her maiden speech, she talked of how her detractors put her down, saying: “If only they could see me now.”

She nominated Andy Burnham to be Labour leader in 2015 but she was one of few MPs who supported Jeremy Corbyn when he was challenged by Owen Smith the following year.

This loyalty earnt her a place on the front bench as shadow education secretary, a role she held for the entirety of Corbyn’s tumultuous leadership.

She was close to team Corbyn during this period but not in the inner circle. Her nominations for the deputy leadership came from across the different parts of the parliamentary party, from left wingers such as her friend Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lloyd Russell-Moyle, to moderates such as Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves.

Plenty of MPs have said privately that they wish she had gone for the top job instead of backing Long-Bailey, her friend and flatmate. Rayner has spoken openly about the challenges women from her background face, which clearly played a part in her decision to run for the number two role.

But keeping her powder dry may also prove smart in the long run, considering the uphill battle the new party leader faces.

Out in the country, she received more than four times the number of constituency party nominations than her nearest rival Dawn Butler, by 363 to 82. And she won the backing of several big unions – a critical step for any MP with leadership ambitions.

Rayner’s significant early lead meant the other candidates had to be more outspoken and colourful to attract attention.

By contrast, her campaign was relatively low profile – one of her few similarities with Boris Johnson, who ran an almost submarine-like bid to be Conservative leader in 2019.

The Ashton-under-Lyne MP was careful not to squander her lead, making thoughtful interventions and granting relatively few interviews.

Her down-to-earth nature and her honesty over her early experiences of deprivation appear to have done much of the heavy lifting for her, making her relatable to many voters.

A pragmatist at heart, Rayner based her deputy leadership campaign on calls for “everyday socialism that’s rooted in peoples lives”.

Her manifesto for power taps into her roots as a union organiser, focusing on transforming Labour into a fighting machine capable of taking on Boris Johnson’s emboldened Conservatives in 2024.

She has described herself as more “bombastic” than Corbyn, saying she would demand more discipline from the party than he did.

Instead she has likened herself to the pugnacious John Prescott, a fitting comparison for the battle ahead.

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