AS Labour continue to maintain their substantial poll lead over the Tories, it looks increasingly likely they will be able to form a majority government after the forthcoming General Election – which is expected to be held next year. And, as Starmer continues to pull Labour rightwards to produce a new version of Blair’s “new” Labour, he will no doubt feel that taking this path is paying dividends.

Despite the purges and expulsions, there is still a substantial body of opinion within Labour that wants to see more radical policies put before the electorate in its forthcoming general election manifesto. This body of opinion is found within many of the affiliated unions like Unite, many constituency parties and internal pressure groups like Momentum.

If the just-gone July meeting of Labour’s National Policy Forum is anything to go by, this body of opinion will find it hard to do much more than just make its voice heard – heard but not listened to.

Yet the pressure on Starmer to concede here will intensify further as the election approaches. And this is where the figure of Angela Rayner will play a critical role.

In 2019, Rayner declared, “I’m John Prescott in a skirt”, meaning she would be not only deputy PM in a Labour government but also the face of the left and the link to the unions and working-class in government.

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In her own words, she continued: “I do consider myself to be like him. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I think that is a very northern thing.”

The key role Prescott played was to give left cover to Blair. At crucial times, he saved Blair’s bacon by saying “give him a chance” and “trust Tony” at annual Labour conferences, allowing Blair to push ahead with his so-called “modernising” agenda.

Prescott pulled on the heartstrings of the left to give the impression that, as a rough and tumble former union shop steward, he could take the edge off Blair’s worship of the market. But as we know,

Prescott did not stop Labour’s version of PFI, called PPP, or many other acts of “new” Labour neo-liberalism.

Rayner is set to play the same role, trading on her working-class roots, union background and rough edges. She grew up in poverty in Stockport and left school at 16 without any qualifications after becoming pregnant.

Working as a carer, she became active in Unison and was soon elected the branch secretary of its care branch in Stockport. She developed a tough “no nonsense” approach to bargaining with her members’ employer, Stockport Council. She then became the convenor of Unison in north-west England. In that time, she also began to become active in the Labour Party.

As an MP for Ashton-under-Lyne from 2015 onwards, her rise has been meteoric. By 2020, she had become Deputy Leader of Labour, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow First Secretary of State. She has also been Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work since 2021.

In Parliament, her left – albeit soft left like Prescott – credentials include supporting Rebecca Long Bailey (against Starmer in 2020), Corbyn (against Owen Smith in 2016) and Andy Burnham (against Corbyn in 2015) for the Labour leadership.


In October 2020, she called a Conservative MP “scum”. In September 2021, she called all the Tories “scum”. And, she has asked those that transcribe MPs’ speeches in Parliament for the official record, Hansard, not to correct her language or grammar so that her voice remains authentically working-class.

Following Labour’s poor performance in the Hartlepool by-election in 2021, Starmer removed her from her roles as the Labour’s chair and national campaign coordinator but she resisted his attempt to further downgrade her shadow positions and influence within Labour.

All this means that Rayner is seen as somewhat radical when compared to Starmer. And that is dangerous because while all things are relative, hope will be placed upon Rayner to rein in Starmer. That gives her disproportionate influence and disproportionate faith will be placed in her – which she shows no signs of using.

After growing up in poverty, she was not a voice of criticism of Sir Keir Starmer becoming known as “Sir Kid Starver” after his decision not to reverse the Tory two-child policy. At the aforementioned July Labour National Policy Forum, she did not stand up for workers’ rights or Labour’s adopted policy called “A New Deal for Workers”.

She has not yet gone so far as to say “be kind to Keir” and “support Starmer” but that will come as the Tory press doubles down on its attacks on Labour as the election approaches, forcing Starmer to enforce his line of unity behind in him in the face of enemy attacks. Rayner will fall in line. She will put the prospect of putting Labour in office above the policies Labour enters office with. “Power not principles” will be her unspoken motto.

Professor Gregor Gall is a Visiting Professor of Industrial Relations at the University of Leeds