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21 April 2020

Why Angela Rayner is Labour’s most powerful deputy since John Prescott

Labour's deputy leader has unveiled the team of MPs that she hopes will transform the party's structure and cultures.

By Patrick Maguire

Angela Rayner might not be facing Dominic Raab at Prime Minister’s Questions tomorrow – Keir Starmer isn’t letting the absence of Boris Johnson deny him his debut at the despatch box – but she is nonetheless asserting her authority as the most powerful deputy leader of the Labour Party since John Prescott. 

That Rayner would occupy a much more central role and wield much more executive power than her immediate predecessors was already clear. Starmer has added three key appointed positions to her elected mandate: she is his parliamentary deputy as Shadow First Secretary of State, and also has responsibility for the Labour machine as Party Chair and national campaign coordinator.

Rayner promised to transform that machine during her victorious campaign to succeed Tom Watson, and this evening the PLP learned just how she intends to do so. She already had two parliamentary private secretaries in Kim Johnson and Nav Mishra, members of the 2019 intake’s healthy cohort of left-wingers. Both came to Parliament via jobs at UNISON, the union that both nominated and once employed Rayner. Tonight she told MPs and peers that she has recruited three further lieutenants to drive through her reforms of Labour’s internal culture and structures.

“Both Keir Starmer and I have made clear our determination to transform the culture and practices of the Labour Party for the better, and these appointments are an early step to do so,” she said. “Even in Opposition, we can show we live our values as a party and put ourselves on a footing to win elections in every corner and nation of our country.”

“Our front bench shows the full range of talent that our Party has to offer, and I’m delighted to be working with such a brilliant group of MPs in my role as Deputy Leader.”

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That group includes Marsha De Cordova – also Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary – who will lead on BAME and disability representation, which Rayner promised to increase during her campaign. Joining her is Tulip Siddiq, still in the Shadow Education role she occupied under Rayner, entrusted with leading on party development.

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Perhaps most interesting, however, is the appointment of Sam Tarry, who chaired Rayner’s tilt deputy leadership. The new MP for Ilford South will lead on campaigns – he is a former community organiser for anti-racism group Hope Not Hate in Dagenham, whose campaign against the British National Party was highlighted in Rayner’s manifesto as a model she wanted Labour to emulate elsewhere. Already Ed Miliband’s PPS, the former TSSA official has been marked out as one of the coming men of the new intake. 

For now, however, his second new job in as many weeks tells us much more about Rayner. Not only has she been vested with more power than Tom Watson or Harriet Harman ever enjoyed, with her union pedigree she is also cultivating a base of her own in the PLP – particularly among those MPs that her own boss, as was the case with Prescott and Blair, might struggle to reach himself.