I try my very hardest to be patient with Angela Rayner. I don’t particularly care for her politics – or the current state of the Party she represents – but for a woman from such humble beginnings to rise to the shadow cabinet is a remarkable and incredibly rare achievement. It isn’t easy leaving ‘the estates’ – I know because I’ve done it too. Imposter syndrome follows you around like the grim reaper, tapping you on the shoulder reminding you that you’re a fraud.
But the fact people from the North use ‘scum’ as a term of endearment is certainly news to me. Following her outburst at a late night fringe event where Rayner said ‘We cannot get any worse than a bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, absolute pile of banana republic, Etonian piece of scum’, she refused to apologise and instead sought to school us on working class slang. ‘Let me contextualise it. It’s a phrase that you would hear very often in Northern working class towns. We’d even say it jovially to other people!’ she said. Really? Next time I see a friend, I shall be sure to greet them with, ‘Hi scum! I haven’t you in a while, how are you?’
To be fair to Rayner, she isn’t lying – she does indeed wander around saying ‘scum’ often, even in the commons. But she has no right to take Northern working class communities down with her. It’s insulting to have someone with such a high profile explaining herself out of sticky situations by peddling stereotypes about working class people. She may be Labour’s mouthpiece, but she certainly isn’t ours. What gives her the right to crown herself as our spokesperson?
I’m not saying we’re perfect. Growing up on a council estate, believe me, I’ve seen a lot. The saddest part was seeing drug addicts. Too many drug addicts. One man was terrifying to look at, a grey skeleton in clothes that looked as if they were disintegrating. My mother said ‘You know him? He went to my school and he was the brightest one out of us. He rarely attended because he had to care for his mum but he always achieved an A. He was a natural but he just got into the wrong crowd.’ Even so, my mother always acknowledged and spoke to him and despite his hard luck he remained courteous and respectful. The place I know is built on love, understanding and decency. When we disagree, we don’t shout ‘scum’ and we don’t jovially refer to each other as such because we respect one another through thick and thin.
The fact is, Rayner’s version of politics is pure pantomime. Worse still, her middle class colleagues and cheerleaders lap it up. With their complete inability to understand how we actually think and behave, they laud Rayner as the working class whisperer.
But what Rayner’s tirade really shows is the staggering level of intolerance sweeping its way through left wing politics. This is a politician that has run out of things to say so has resorted to name-calling. She should remind herself that the ‘scum’ of which she speaks were voted in by a huge majority. They didn’t do too bad in Northern working class communities either. There will be some – hard-left Labour members mostly – who relish this combative attitude. But the average voter finds it worryingly childish from a woman who has admitted to wanting the keys to No.10.
What’s more, her insults are baseless. Racist? The current cabinet is the most ethnically diverse ever. Homophobic? Boris Johnson may have made the odd distasteful joke but his record shows that he supported gay marriage and voted to repeal a ban on the promotion of homosexuality in schools. And misogynistic? has Labour ever dared to have a female leader? Hasn’t one of their own female MPs been so hounded for saying that ‘only women have a cervix’ that she decided not to attend her own Party Conference? The Labour leader couldn’t even find it within himself to defend her.
One phrase you would hear on the estate where I grew up was, ‘those who live in glass houses should not throw stones’.
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