Has Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, dropped her strongest hint yet that she might consider running for the top job one day?
She appeared at an event organised by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London yesterday alongside the former Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard. They discussed what it was like to be a woman in the upper echelons of politics.
Keir Starmer’s deputy told Gillard that she had spoken to other senior female figures in the party, including Yvette Cooper and Harriet Harman, about Labour not having had had a female leader yet. As the party’s diversity champion, she promised she would make sure there’ll be a “female leader after Keir”.
Rayner also appeared to suggest she could stand herself: “Whether it’s me or someone else, I will push to make sure that there will be female leader applicants because I think that’s what the Labour Party needs.”
“The most important thing” for her is “being in the place I’ll make the most difference”, before saying she would “never say never” about running. “If I think I can do it and I think I’m the right thing for the country at the time then yes, you bet I would do it.” Rayner even joked that her “imposter syndrome completely evaporated” due to Boris Johnson’s disastrous period in No 10.
The duo discussed Rayner’s experience as a single mum of three in Stockport, and the challenges she has faced in her political career. When asked about how women are often treated in leadership roles, the deputy admitted she felt women in positions of power “feel like they have to be more masculine to survive in it”. She told Gillard that women should be more assertive about carving out time for family. “Normally, my staff will say ‘we’ll tell them you’ve got something important’. And I say, ‘No, tell them I have the children.’
“I’m a professional woman. I do work more hours, but I very rarely get a day off, and you know what? I’m going to have my children on that day and spend time with them.”
Musing over the reasons that Labour has not yet had a female leader, Rayner suggested that the “culture” of Westminster may still prevent women from standing for senior roles. She claimed it was expected “you have to surrender so much of your life”.
Rayner referenced Labour’s “right to switch off” policy, which would restrict bosses from contacting workers outside of hours by phone or email, and went on to call for parliament to improve the work-life balance for senior MPs “or we will continue to have this problem”.