Female, northern and working class: Angela Rayner smear shows how Tory party is hanging on to elitism

‘The hateful nature of this article reveals a great deal about the Conservatives in Westminster under this prime minister, their pals in the right-wing press and of their relationship with a public that they hold in contempt.’

Rayner and Johnson in the Commons

Angela Rayner has never tried to hide her upbringing on a council estate in Stockport, and leaving school at 16 pregnant with no qualifications.

When she was shadow education secretary, Rayner criticised politicians for thinking of teenage mothers as “just failures” with “nothing in their lives”.

With a strong northern accent, the Ashton-under-Lyne MP, said that whenever she appears on the Today programme, she receives letters telling her: “If only you spoke properly.”

“I try my best to stay true to who I am. I don’t pronounce all of my words how they do on the BBC at times and that’s okay, because I sound like the people I grew up with,” the Labour deputy once said.

The comments were made in 2018, at Labour’s annual party conference in Liverpool, when Rayner told Guardian editor Katharine Viner, that MPs with working class backgrounds have it “beaten out of them.”

Vile ‘Basic Instinct’ claims

This week saw Angela Rayner subjected to vile, defamatory claims involving Tory MPs accusing her of a ‘Basic Instinct’ ploy to deliberately distract Boris Johnson.

In response to the article published by the Mail on Sunday on April 24, Labour’s deputy leader said she was “crestfallen” when she heard the newspaper planned to publish the story.

Speaking on ITV’s Lorraine show, Rayner described the article as “disgusting”, saying, as a woman in politics, she constantly has to “prove my worth.”

‘Steeped in classism’

Asides the barefaced misogyny and sexism of the article, the MP said it was also “steeped in classism and about where I come from, where I grew up.”

With Tory MPs anonymously quoted in the article claiming Rayner used the ‘Basic Instinct’ tactic because she could not compete with Johnson’s “Oxford Union debating training” with her “comprehensive school” education but that she “has other skills that he lacks,” it is difficult to argue that the article does nothing but reek of classism, and says more about the male-dominated, Eton-educated, privileged-upbringing elitism of the Tory party than it does about Angela Rayner.

In response to the outpour of contempt towards the story, Tories quickly attempted to distance themselves from it. Eager to show his disproval over the overt misogyny, the PM tweeted: “As much as I disagree with @AngelaRayner on almost every political issue I respect her as a parliamentarian and deplore the misogyny directed at her anonymously today.”

The sincerity of the message was questioned when culture secretary Nadine Dorries shared the same tweet 15 minutes later, proving it was little more than a shallow PR stunt.

The public share Rayner’s concerns

A handful of letters to the Guardian show that the public share Rayner’s concerns about the Tory government’s misogyny and classism, which is seemingly being peddled by their right-wing media cronies.

“However much Boris Johnson and his acolytes may “deplore the misogyny” directed at Rayner, it is a monster that has risen from the noxious swamp that they are responsible for creating,” writes Paul McGilchrist.

Thoughts shared by Guardian reader Nick Sinclair, who writes: “Aside from the misogyny, the notorious article in the Mail on Sunday criticising Angela Rayner also has a clear message for those of us not educated in the ways of Oxbridge debating conventions: stay in your place and leave government to the men from the right background who know best.

“The hateful nature of this article reveals a great deal about the Conservatives in Westminster under this prime minister, their pals in the right-wing press and of their relationship with a public that they hold in contempt,” he continued.

The Labour deputy is not alone in feeling demeaned in her profession because of her gender and background.

Nadia Whittome felt unwelcome in the Commons as a working-class woman of colour

Nadia Whittome, Labour MP for Nottingham East, said she felt unwelcome in the Commons as a ‘working class woman of colour.’

In January 2020, during her maiden speech after she was elected MP, Whittome, who was 23 at the time and the youngest MP, said “old conventions and antiquated language” were to blame.

“Historically so much happens in this building that is designed to exclude and alienate working class people.

“The old conventions, the antiquated language. As a working class woman of colour, I’m made to feel like I don’t belong here unless I throw my community under a bus,” she said.

Johnson’s disregard for the working-class

Johnson might have attempted to show disdain towards the Mail on Sunday’s smear towards the Labour deputy, but his disregard for working class people in Britain has been long revealed.

In 2019, the prime minister was criticised when an article from 1995 resurfaced in which he attacked single mothers and their “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate” children. Working class men were also dismissed as “likely to be drunk, criminal, aimless, feckless and hopeless.”

The article was first unearthed by Business Insider. The Insider’s report quoted Labour’s David Lammy, who said the comments revealed Johnson’s “disdain for working class people across the UK.”

The PM’s classism reared its head again in 2005 when he wrote in an article for the Times tilted ‘The poor are being robbed in Labour’s class war,’ in which he claimed Labour was doing little for the most deprived sections of society “except to keep them exactly where they are, on their run-down estates, voting Labour in the deluded hope of bigger hand-outs.”

In October 2020, former Tory minister for women and equalities Justine Greening, recognised the elitism that lives on in the Tory party, writing: “We Tories must ditch elitism and embrace true equality.”

“It’s difficult not to look like the party of privilege when 65 per cent of the cabinet is privately educated, serving under and old Etonian prime minister and a Winchester College-educated chancellor,” Greening continued.

Just last month, Phillip Blond, former advisor to David Cameron, endorsed Boris Johnson as the only leader that can “deliver for the working class.” Speaking on GB News, Blond said: “Why I like Boris, is I think he is the only leader presently and in waiting who can deliver for the working class who voted him in.

Sadly, as evidenced by the Angela Rayner smear article in one of Britain’s most read newspapers, elitism remains at the heart of the current government, and the Tory party is a world apart from the ordinary people it claims to represent.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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