Angela Rayner: Remarkable rise of Britain's new deputy PM

Rayner, 44, is a former care worker who had a baby at the age of 16 and left her state-run school with barely any qualifications but now looks set to be one of Britain's most powerful women.
Incoming Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner arrives at Downing Street in London, Friday, July 5, 2024.
Incoming Deputy Prime Minister Angela Rayner arrives at Downing Street in London, Friday, July 5, 2024. AP

LONDON: In a country long dominated by a ruling class disproportionately educated at private schools and Oxford and Cambridge universities, Britain's new deputy prime minister Angela Rayner has stood out.

Rayner, 44, is a former care worker who had a baby at the age of 16 and left her state-run school with barely any qualifications but now looks set to be one of Britain's most powerful women.

She grew up in Stockport, on the outskirts of Manchester in northwest England, living in one of the area's most deprived social housing complexes.

From an early age she took responsibility for caring for her mother, who was bipolar and suffered from depression, while her father was absent much of the time.

She has recounted as a child only having hot baths on Sundays at her grandmother's flat, because hot water was too expensive to use at home, and going to friends' homes for a full meal.

Angie, as friends and colleagues call her, left school after becoming a single mother aged 16, later studying part-time at college.

She learnt British sign language and gained a vocational qualification in social care.

Several years later, Rayner had another child born prematurely, who is registered blind and has special educational needs.

A mother of three sons, she became a grandmother at the age of 37, celebrating with the hashtag "Grangela".

"I've got a PhD in real life," she has said of her backstory. "Those challenges haven't broken me... I know what my strengths are."

'Blunt'

Recognisable for her long red hair and trademark fringe, and distinct northern accent, Rayner has become one of Labour's most prominent figures during its 14 years in opposition.

She was elected deputy leader -- chosen independently of the actual leader, by party members -- in 2020.

Many have compared Rayner with John Prescott, the long-time deputy of Labour's former prime minster Tony Blair, who also had working-class background in northern England.

She has described her working relationship with new Labour Prime Minister Keir Starmer -- a former lawyer criticised as overly timid and lacking charisma -- as an "arranged marriage" which has evolved over time.

"Actually we kind of complement each other," Rayner previously told The Guardian. "He smooths off my rough edges. I bring him out of his shell".

Rayner has been a top target for political attacks by the ruling Conservatives, who appear to fear her blunt style and ability to connect with working class voters.

"She's blunt, bolshie and terrifies the Tories," The Guardian summarised.

In 2022 the Conservatives were criticised after one of their MPs allegedly told a newspaper that Rayner deliberately tried to distract Prime Minister Boris Johnson during debates in parliament by crossing and uncrossing her legs.

The paper quoted an unnamed Tory comparing her to Sharon Stone's femme fatale character in the 1992 film "Basic Instinct", sparking a slew of sexism complaints.

'Awkward'

The Tories' more recent attempts to tie her to a property scandal ended in failure when police and tax officials cleared her of any wrongdoing.

Rayner, who in 2021 apologised for calling Conservative ministers "scum", has argued that her adversaries' attacks reflect their own biases.

"They don't know how to interact because they don't often meet people like me and it's a bit awkward," she said.

Rayner was first elected to parliament in 2015 as Labour MP for the Ashton-under-Lyne constituency near Manchester.

It followed a period working for trade unions, Labour's traditional backers.

"I never had an ambition to be a politician," she has told "The Rest is Politics" podcast.

"My only dream in my teen years was to learn to drive legally," she said, adding she can "fix cars".

On the Labour benches, her outspokenness helped fuel her rise, first under leftist ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn, and then Starmer.

After holding a wide-ranging policy brief in recent years, she has vowed to end "zero-hours contracts", work to restore unions' powers and build 1.5 million homes in five years.

"I want to build the next wave of social and council houses, nice ones, green ones, ones you want to live in," Rayner has promised.

Related Stories

No stories found.

X
The New Indian Express
www.newindianexpress.com