Relations between Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner are not good and the working relationship between their offices is worse. “Mutual distrust and resentment”, as one Labour MP put it to me last night, probably best sums up relations between the two at the moment. But the two politicians have more in common than perhaps either of them appreciates: firstly because they are both politicians from the middle of the party, but also because they are both suffering first-hand from the changed media landscape at party conferences.
Seen one way, Labour’s leader and deputy leader are both having a great conference. Although the margin will be close, and the potential for an embarrassing defeat is real, Starmer’s rule changes (both the procedural changes mandated and approved by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the changes to the party’s rules on leadership nominations, candidate selections and policymaking processes) are likely to pass.
As for Rayner, she has been geeing up activists with tub-thumping speeches at the party’s numerous conference receptions, and has been turning heads with a sympathetic and revealing interview in the Times.
Yet both are under fire this morning after Rayner described the Conservatives as “scum” in an impassioned speech/unhinged rant (delete according to taste) about the Tory government at Labour’s north-west reception. Starmer struggled to handle questions on the issue on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, saying that they weren’t the words he would use and that he would “speak to” his deputy about the remarks (which of course extends the story further, because now the press will want to know exactly when the two politicians spoke about it and what they concluded).
In times past, the arm-twisting and last-minute deal-making was largely hidden from public view. But as Jeremy Corbyn discovered in both 2018 and 2019, when fraught negotiations over the party’s Brexit position dominated the early days of conference, those days are gone. And politicians delivering unhinged rants/impassioned speeches about the deficiencies of the other side at the fringes of their party conference is not new either. But, increasingly, remarks made at them are discussed not only on the conference fringe but on the national news.