Could Keir Starmer have given Angela Rayner’s TUC speech?

Those that have paid consideration to British politics in any respect since 2020 will know that Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner are totally different politicians, each in model and in substance. 

Certainly, Rayner and Starmer’s relationship, the usual telling goes, is a wedding of inconvenience. That they’ve been pressured collectively is regretted as an sad accident of Labour’s inner election system — which supplies the chief and deputy chief with parallel mandates. The definitional reverse of “star-crossed lovers”, they’re destined to disagree, most likely, all the way in which into authorities — and particularly as Starmer undertakes to enervate his “delicate left” via reshuffles and coverage u-turns.

This telling — fashionable amongst these in Conservative circles who wish to stir Labour infighting — acquired one thing akin to an endorsement from Rayner final month as she in contrast her relationship with Starmer to an “organized marriage”. She revealed to the BBC that their kinship had “developed” through the years, however went on: “We had been each elected by the membership in another way and independently. We work constructively collectively”.

Whereas Rayner and Starmer’s political variations are considerably much less unbridgeable than these of former management duo Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson, Starmer’s mission to firmly stamp his mark on the get together has usually present in “Ange” a conspicuous roadblock. 


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Certainly, it has been one in every of Starmer’s perennial issues as Labour chief that he has not labored out whether or not to grab on his variations together with his deputy, or to keep away from any questions of political divergence by isolating her. After the Could 2021 Hartlepool by-election, which noticed Labour as soon as extra routed in its former heartlands, Starmer seemed to be leaning in direction of the latter as he eliminated Rayner from the roles of get together chair and nationwide marketing campaign coordinator. 

However in a transfer that has assumed folklorish prominence in Starmer’s Labour, Rayner efficiently orchestrated a revolt from her allies, forcing Starmer to placate her with a sequence of roles. The consequence was an elaborate, twenty-four-word job title as Rayner emerged as shadow first secretary of state, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow secretary of state for the way forward for work. (“The extra titles he feeds her, the hungrier she is prone to develop into”, a buoyant Boris Johnson quipped on the following Prime Minister’s Questions). 

Since that inglorious day in Could 2021, rumours that the Labour chief will really observe via on his prior menace to freeze out Rayner have appeared virtually as steadily as briefings about Ed Miliband’s future. They’re pushed partly by an improved polling efficiency, which has allowed Starmer to consolidate his management over his get together. One other pertinent pattern is that Rayner’s significance in Labour has appeared to devalue in inverse proportion to the rising foreign money of Rachel Reeves. (The shadow chancellor has emerged as Starmer’s severely adept sidekick; and it is among the merciless guidelines of opposition politics — with time within the highlight so coveted — that the rise of 1 spokesperson virtually at all times leads to the equal and reverse decline in one other). 

However with Starmer’s latest shadow cupboard reshuffle, and Angela Rayner’s speech on the TUC convention yesterday, it might be that the Labour chief and his deputy have settled their variations by embracing them.  

In Starmer’s early September reshuffle, Rayner turned shadow deputy prime minister and shadow secretary of state for levelling up, whereas retaining her function as “strategic lead” for Labour’s New Deal for Working Individuals. 

Rayner’s speech yesterday on the Trades Union Congress (TUC) convention in Liverpool was her first main public look since Starmer’s reshuffle. And empowered by her new coverage temporary, the shadow deputy PM’s job was twofold: (1) to announce and promote Labour’s staff rights package deal to sceptical unions and, (2), to persuade Starmer’s left-wing critics extra broadly that the Labour Celebration can, actually, be trusted. 

On this latter level, some argue Rayner is swimmingly towards the tide. Certainly, after the get together’s Nationwide Coverage Discussion board in July, a report appeared within the Monetary Instances suggesting that Labour was diluting a pledge to spice up the safety of gig economic system staff amongst different proposals. It got here with the suggestion that Labour was shirking its duty as get together of the employees in an effort to woo massive enterprise. 

Effectively conscious of such criticisms, Rayner started by paying tribute to the TUC’s basic secretary Paul Nowak for taking over the Conservatives over staff’ rights throughout waves of business motion, earlier than saying on her coverage pitch: 

Day one fundamental rights, a ban on zero-hour contracts, an finish to fireplace and rehire, family-friendly working, strengthened sick pay, making it accessible to all staff, together with the bottom earners.

And from day one, we’ll go quicker and faster to finish the gender pay hole, deal with unequal pay, deal with sexual harassment at work and put psychological well being on a par with bodily well being, and we’ll herald a correct residing wage, which individuals can really reside on.

It acquired rapturous applause. 

She outlined furthermore that Labour’s plan to curate a New Deal for Working Individuals blueprint inside 100 days is a “cast-iron dedication”. She additionally dedicated to repealing the Strikes (Minimal Service Ranges) Act 2023 throughout the first 100 days of a Starmer-fronted administration. (Labour hardly ever commits to instantly repealing Conservative laws, even when they’ve opposed it; such because the Unlawful Migration Act and Public Order Act. This, due to this fact, appears important).

Cue additional applause. 

In sum, the speech amounted to a clarion name for the unions to “come collectively, stand collectively and marketing campaign aspect by aspect”. This all begs the query: might Keir Starmer, who consciously exudes Blair-like moderation and thus occasional antipathy to union leaders, have made this speech? 

For what it’s price, Rayner’s speech got here after Starmer addressed the TUC basic council dinner at Liverpool’s Hilton Resort. “Bland!” was how one senior union basic secretary, described to Starmer’s speech to Sky Information. 

This can be additional proof that whereas Starmer is the chief of the capital “L” Labour get together, Rayner is the nominal convenor — or not less than the main parliamentary mild — of the small “l” labour motion. 

Ultimately, solely time will inform whether or not Starmer will double down on his pitch on employee’s rights, composed of the “New Deal”, and permit Rayner to make use of her clout among the many unions to promote it. (After she known as Conservatives “scum” Labour’s convention in 2021, Starmer has not at all times embraced Rayner’s freelancing). 

On this, one imagines that the Labour management is watching the retorts of Conservative MPs intently; certainly, primarily based on the statements and string of tweets from get together representatives yesterday, they nonetheless suppose Starmer is uncovered relating to his deputy. (Tory tweeter-in-chief and chairman Greg Arms accused Rayner of “committing to Labour’s union paymasters” after the firebrand politician vowed to repeal anti-strike laws).

This will get to the very root of Labour’s strategic dilemma: learn how to steadiness neutralising Conservative assault traces whereas providing a definite different, placating voices to the management’s left. 

Starmer could have determined that it his function to prosecute the previous, whereas Rayner will be utilised on the latter crucial.