Labour's rising star talks social mobility, what she learnt from trade unions—and why being leader is "the stuff of dreams"by Jennifer Williams / September 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
It says something about the modern Labour Party that one of Angela Rayner’s most unusual—and so best-known—attributes is her working-class back-story. Perhaps it says even more that in response to her rapid rise, to the point where she is now being tipped for the top job, some fellow Labour MPs have warned her to tone it down.
“I remember colleagues saying to me ‘it’s great you say so much about your back-story, but I wouldn’t do it too much, because it can prevent you from being a leader,’” says the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne. “Or, ‘it’s really good that she’s got a good backstory but it doesn’t really qualify her to be Education Secretary.’ So it does cloud people’s judgment. But it can also help you—and you can use it to your advantage.”
Indeed. The 37-year-old has had a remarkable last year or two, and for that matter—in the context of today’s professionalised politics—a remarkable life. Born in 1980, Rayner grew up on a council estate in Stockport, leaving school with no qualifications and falling pregnant at 16 and having to fend for herself and her child. (“I know what it’s like to be hungry,” points out the now mother-of-three. “It’s not an academic statistic for me.”)
While raising her young kids, she also worked as a home carer, and became involved in Unison—becoming the union’s organiser on Stockport council. A blink of an eye later, and she was northwest convenor. After following the well-worn path into the Labour Party, she ran for selection in Withington and finally secured Ashton through an all-woman shortlist, entering parliament in 2015.
“It’s the trade unionist in me, I think. You never relinquish power, ever, even if it’s difficult.”
Already, at 35, that was more than many people cram into a lifetime. But a year later, Rayner found herself handed the shadow education brief in the wake of the disastrous 2016 anti-Corbyn coup. “I genuinely thought that I’d be gone by Monday,” she insists. “I just thought it was the right thing to do rather than leave the frontbench empty.” Then, with contrasting single-mindedness: “It’s the trade unionist in me, I think. You never relinquish power, ever, even if it’s difficult.”
And so far, she hasn’t. If her accelerated rise up the greasy pole has…