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A stiff upper lip has never helped people like me — Angela Rayner’s emotion is her strength

·3-min read
 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

It’s January 2021 and the then-health secretary Matt Hancock is on air with the then-Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan. The free school meals fiasco is its height and Morgan has a question for Hancock: does he regret voting against extending free school meals? What follows is more ducking and diving than you’d see in a game of dodgeball. Hancock was clearly told to essentially plead the fifth. I remember thinking: if he owned up to it and expressed a tiny shred of remorse, I’d respect him a little bit more.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner’s interview with The Times last week only drummed that in more. I read it expecting the usual faux earnest political profile and was surprised to read admissions of everything from anger and shame to feelings of imposter syndrome and unworthiness. Not what you’d typically expect from someone in a position of leadership. But maybe we should.

The stiff upper lip approach in politics has never served people like me. When Black Lives Matter protesters were criticised, nobody in power cared that black people were frustrated. When the Sarah Everard vigil turned into a police crackdown, nobody cared that women were scared. When schoolchildren were denied meals they couldn’t get at home, nobody cared that they were without through no fault of their own. Politicians seem more preoccupied by coming across as ‘fair’ than empathetic but for many of us, life has never been fair.

In her interview, Rayner is diplomatic about her boss Keir Starmer, reasoning that he’s been “taught as a lawyer that this is what you do: you don’t get emotional about it, you get practical about it”. As a tentative Labour voter, I’m not sure I can be as forgiving. How many times has Starmer been a disappointment to the disenfranchised? Let me count the ways. Dismissing BLM as a ‘moment’ then taking unconscious bias training to make amends, as if he were an office worker who asked a colleague where they are “from-from”. His lukewarm defence of trans people when MP Rosie Duffield said “only women have a cervix”. Failing to take a tough stand against what has arguably been the easiest Government to oppose. Being empathetic should mean “getting emotional about it” and not enough people are in politics.

It helps that Rayner grew up working class and was a teenage mother. She knows the breadline well and has experience to back up her stance on key policies. This is what we mean when we say the Cabinet needs to be more diverse. I don’t need to be trans to understand that those who identify as such deserve access to safe spaces without being called into question. I just need to be empathetic. I want the person I next vote for to get angry on my behalf. I want the thought of children going hungry to move them to tears. I want them to call “scum” as they see it. Rayner makes me more hopeful but if an election was called tomorrow, I’m not sure what I’d do.

A Zoom version of Strictly might be a ratings success

Looks like McFly’s Tom Fletcher and his dance partner Amy Dowden are now isolating in the latest instalment of Strictly Come Dancing’s Covid saga. Let’s hope the virus doesn’t spread to the other pairings. The last thing we need is for the Beeb to turn to Zoom as a back-up like so many early lockdown shows. Can you imagine? Craig Revel Horwood delivering his verdict without realising he’s on mute. The wi-fi cutting out halfway through a charleston, making it look more like the robot. Someone’s oblivious husband walking past in nothing but a towel while their partner anxiously awaits results. Though now that I think about it, it would probably be a ratings success.

What do you think of Angela Rayner’s ‘scum’ comment? Let us know in the comments below.

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