This week the Labour Party conference kicked off against a backdrop of infighting and collapsing poll ratings. The latest Britain Elects Poll Tracker has Labour trailing behind the Tories by an eight-point margin at 24%. Although in recent years I have learned not to trust polls completely, with the crisis that this government has plunged the country in, this isn’t a good look for Labour.
It is certainly not a good look for Jeremy Corbyn. With voters consistently siding with Boris Johnson on who is best suited for prime minister, it is time for a new Labour leader who can win back the support of traditional Labour voters that have lost faith in the party to represent them. This person is Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner.
Rayner only entered Parliament in 2015 but swiftly became a high-flyer on the Labour benches and was promoted to Shadow Education Secretary in 2016. However, her background is an uncommon one among the green benches of the Commons.
Before working as a care-worker and then a trade union representative in her hometown of Stockport, Rayner grew up on a council estate often caring for her mum who suffered from mental health problems. She left school with no GCSEs above a C grade and became pregnant at 16. Yet, the New Labour government’s Sure Start programme ensured she got an education and she found a job working for the local council.
Perhaps the most revealing insight into her upbringing comes from an interview with The Guardian in 2017. “I remember going round to my friends’ houses and asking them to ask their mum and dad if I could stay for dinner because I wasn’t going to get fed.”
Who in politics today has had that experience? Her story of growing up is shared by many in the age of austerity – a far cry from the nanny there to tend to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s childhood woes.
Rayner’s life experience and her resilience makes her an exceptional politician, but it also makes her a representative one. She is set apart from the middle-class ‘Islington intelligentsia’ – the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, who was grammar school educated and a life-long Londoner, and Emily Thornberry, a private property lender and international lawyer who is tipped to run for the next leader.
Of course, these characteristics do not prohibit them from being good leaders or politicians. I believe Jeremy Corbyn to be a caring, passionate and principled man, and Emily Thornberry to be a fiery and effective potential leader. But Labour has fallen out of touch with the voters it claims to represent.
Too often in the contemporary Labour Party, and broadly on the left, middle-class politicians have claimed to speak up for working people while their behaviour and image has appeared patronising and out of touch.
Just take Emily Thornberry’s English flag tweet of 2014. Widely criticised for appearing to sneer at a Rochdale household for flying the flag of St George, she was forced to resign by leader Ed Miliband. Looking further back in time, Gordon Brown’s mishap with a microphone led to the world hearing just what he thought of people concerned by high levels of immigration: ‘bigoted woman’ was his reaction to life-long Labour voter, Gillian Duffy.
Labour needs a leader who can communicate effectively with the people they claim to represent. Someone who has actually experienced and lived in these communities. Labour needs a leader who truly represents them and can win back their trust.
I also think that the time has come for a female Labour leader. I am not, and have never been, in favour of identity politics. I believe that the best candidate should be given the position of leader. So let me tell you, Angela Rayner is the best candidate for this position.
However, our party has never had a female leader despite our pride in inclusivity and progressive policies. This is surely wrong. Therefore, not only would Rayner be the best person for the job, but she would also be a more representative leader – both in terms of gender and background.
That is why I would like to see Jeremy Corbyn stand down within the next year. He has set the agenda for the next Labour government with, in my opinion, the best Labour manifesto in decades. He has shown that Labour is serious about rebuilding Britain, and I strongly believe in this objective.
Yet, this can only be achieved by winning the next election, and we now need a leader who really represents the people that Labour relies on for support. It does not need another Islington academic or Oxford-educated lawyer, it needs someone who can win back the trust of traditional Labour voters who crave a politician they can relate to.
Labour needs a leader who working people feel represents them and has shared their experience of life in modern Britain. It needs a leader who could win an election handsomely. That person is Angela Rayner.