Monday 2 August 2021

The Historic Role of Angela Rayner

What is the role played by Angela Rayner in the current Labour Party set up? She successfully resisted Keir Starmer's ham-fisted attempt at framing her for the Hartlepool and local election routs. And as Oliver Eagleton recently wrote, she acted as a sort of go-between in the toing and froing of Jeremy Corbyn's suspension and non-reinstatement, before lining up with the right and capitulating to their demands to keep him out of the parliamentary party. Likewise, as the nominal head of the party organisation she fully cooperated with the both-sidesism of the right wing framing of the Labour leaks document. This helped ensure the sting was drawn out of its damning findings, not least that senior staff sat on anti-semitism complaints to damage the party, and therefore protecting the apparat - a reliable base of the Labour right.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Cast one's mind back to the deputy leadership contest, and we find a comfortably left wing Angela Rayner. "I'm not a Corbynite I'm a socialist" she said at the launch of her deputy bid, and her left credentials were well and truly burnished by endorsing Rebecca Long-Bailey for leader. To her credit, and unlike the party's scab tendency she stepped up to the plate when the bulk of MPs were trying to bring the former leader down. And even if it was for careerist or getting-her-face-known reasons, she put herself forward when fainter hearts fell into line. This has earned her the undying enmity from some on the Labour right, but for others she, like Starmer himself had a certain unifying appeal. Momentum and RLB were backing her, and Labour First stuck her on their list of preferences. Rayner projected a cross-factionalism offering as the others were identified with the continuity left (in the cases of Dawn Butler and Richard Burgon) or right wingers (Rosena Allin-Khan, Ian Murray), a point underlined by how the vote split following Dawn's and Murray's elimination from the race - 17,000 and 19,000 respectively transferred.

As a unity deputy side-by-side with a unity leader, the division of responsibility was clear from results day. Starmer would be the super serious one, the blank canvas for disgruntled ex-Labour voters and pro-EU people generally. His role would be to look pretty in a nice suit and expensive haircut, while beguiling the punters with his forensic deconstruction of Boris Johnson and simply looking Prime Ministerial. Rayner on the other hand could be a bit freer - he was the party's head while she was the heart. As a working class northerner who made her way into the Commons via the trade union movement (i.e. the old-fashioned way), she condenses the authority and authenticity of the "proper" Labour Party. She can and does say stuff that would be awkward coming from the leader, and does it with bombast and a touch of populism. Rayner fronting up Andy McDonald's trade union recommendations, which includes full rights on day one of employment, an end to zero hour contracts, and the right to flexible working is consistent with the role she occupies.

There's another level of symbolism Rayner's position personifies: the class composition of the Labour Party itself. From its inception Labour was a proletarian party, that is a party seeking to (formally) represent everyone who works for a living in return for a wage or a salary. As such it has been dominated by its wealthier, upwardly mobile, and professional layers from the start - a fact that has left an indelible stamp on Labourist politics. Trade union power might be crucial to the balance of factions in the party, but its political direction and intellectual life belongs to the middle class. Working class aspirations, apart from the brief interval of 2015-19, play second fiddle. The Starmer-Rayner duumvirate exemplify this just as Blair-Prescott did 20 years ago. The charismatic working class politician is there for show and enjoys a certain off-colour license as long as the apple cart goes un-upset, whereas the big brain thinking is entrusted to specialist advisors and clever people with the correct pedigree. The election of Starmer and Rayner was a reversion to the historic mean of relations between the party's strata and occupational groupings.

There's another historical truth incarnated by the deputy leader. Even though Rayner is a trade unionist and has experienced the sharp end of organising among low paid workers, this hasn't left her with an appreciation of class struggle and the opposition of interests. As she puts it in her Graun interview discussing her pressing for flexible working while a care worker, "We introduced a flexible rota that worked for the staff, and we saw productivity go up. The wellbeing of the staff, as well as the outcome for the service user, was they had the same staff going in – and sickness levels went significantly down as well, so it saved money for the employer. It’s a win-win ... If an employer looks after the employees, the employees will look after the employer, and it’s reciprocal." The take home here is jaw-jaw is always better than war-war. Reasonable employers will see the light if they listen to their workers, and benefit from it. This is ABC Labourism, the relation between worker and boss is a partnership of mutual interests, not the coercion of economic necessity, exploitation, and authoritarianism. This fundamentally peaceable, naive outlook finds its strongest expression in Labour's soft left and helps explain why it has never been politically hegemonic in the party. For all its faults and with some naivete of its own, Corbynism (or at least strands of it) had a conception of power politics. Its opposite on the Labour right certainly does, even if it leads them into stupid and self-defeating positions. The soft left, meanwhile, thinks ideas and reasonable discussion wins out in the end. A manifestation of idealism in the Marxian sense right at the heart of the oldest workers' movement in the world.

And what has been the historic fate of the soft left? To try and position itself as the conscience of the right. Never contesting them for power, as a trend it has backed the purging of leftwingers, provided intellectual cover and cabinet personnel during the Blair/Brown years, did little to nothing to push against the right wing pressures on Ed Miliband, and disgracefully under Corbyn lined up with Owen Smith (Luke Akehurst partly mischaracterised his leadership challenge as the revolt of the soft left), and/or pushed continuity remain. Angela Rayner as a soft leftist was a rarity for not going along with this, but now she is in office with not inconsiderable powers and influence at her disposal, she's faithfully followed her forebears in pushing bureaucratic politics and strengthening the right's hold over the party organisation.

It's true enough that Rayner stands out on the front bench, simply because the rest of her colleagues are deadly dull and, more importantly for the leader, unthreatening. But her position and her behaviour is nothing new. She's playing a well-trodden and well-understood role, one that is about making Labour safe for capital and its interests. But that's okay as long as she and the trend she personifies have permission to (ineffectually) appeal to its better nature, while sitting out and wringing their hands over the battles to come.

Image Credit


McIntosh said...

A good, high minded analysi of Ms Rayner's trajectory so far. However, what fascinates me is the change in her appearance over the last 5 years or so. The hair, the teeth, the make-up, the 5 inch heels and the outfits. It is as though she has been taken over by a body double.
It seems she changes her politics as easily aas she has her appearance - though it may have taken a great deal of effort to transform her apearance while her politics may have been a matter of seeing which way the wind was blowing.

Blissex said...

«Reasonable employers will see the light if they listen to their workers, and benefit from it.»

A charitable interpretation is that is public relations towards the less ferocious of the employers, and that it might even work to some degree, so why not try it first?

«This is ABC Labourism, the relation between worker and boss is a partnership of mutual interests, not the coercion of economic necessity, exploitation, and authoritarianism.»

Just a reminder to other readers that there is an intermediate position between such naive opportunism and the adventurism of those planning for the inevitable turn to full socialism under Supreme Commissar Of The People Arthur Scargill (as long as he is still available) :-).

That intermediate position is that the self-demise of privatised capitalism has been "imminent" since the 1860s and in the meantime the best moments for the employees have been when they have fought hard but not recklessly for a bigger share of the plusvalue they generate, and that was proved by both post-WW1 and post-WW2 years in most of Europe.

That requires organizing as a movement and proactive negotiation. And that is what the Mandelson Tendency is so contrary too, preferring a party as a mere marketing machine for "kumbaya" (except for "scroungers" and "bigots") style politics fueled by donations from nigh-net-worth "sponsors" supplying much needed "guardrails" to the direction of the party.

BCFG said...

Angela Rayner seems to have been given the role of the rights useful leftish idiot, or maybe she is being groomed to be the female John Prescott.

To be fair to her, she does kinda seem like a human being (why not get the heels out btw, call me base but it gets my attention!). I would much rather see a party in power with her in it than the inbreds in the Tory party, just as long as that party is not led by the odious Andy Burnham, in that case anyone but that party!

Anonymous said...

I love your confidence that you know who the working class are. But I dunno. ≪Everyone who works for a living in return for a wage or a salary≫ That's a lot of people, mate. A lot of very different people. A lot of very very different people. No wonder the self appointed left in this country keeps chasing around this cause or that cause. Its like when the SWP turn up at your protest with their fucking placards and try and make it their thing.

Not sure who this is aimed at. Obviously not the ≪soft left≫ or the ≪scab tendency≫ (did you really type that out haha, fucking hell, been out in the street fighting coppers again haha, jesus, talk about deflection). So whos it meant for? The deskbased radical tendency? The media wankers who like to set themselves up as the peoples voice when its obvious their just media wankers? (you know who i mean, Bastani, Jones and all the other screentime junkies)

Problem is the ≪proletariat≫ (come off it, you might feel radical using these terms from two centuries ago but you come off like some wannabe leftist Rees Mogg. Itd be like if Marx had tried to talk to people in his times but only using words Hobbes had used. Mental.) Anyway the working people have escaped from being the proletariat and are now so wrapped up in narrower and narrower individual level identity politics they aint never going to agree to put aside their differences in the name of solidarity. consumer individualism ideology has won and when the left goes off trying to keep each niche group happy it can never make a mass. And without a mass theres no momentum (no, not that lot of posers) and no movement.

The left in this country is all about talk. Blogs, twitter, youtube, columns, blahblah. BLM and the greens have been out in the streets not just plodding around on some march but actually doing some shit but the socalled radical left does its usual trick of tryin to ride on some posh boys coattails, pretending theres an 'ism' and writing books about it (lets be honest its the elitist Lenin fantasy of being the vanguard innit?). Be honest with yourself. You are all soft left because your all reformists and the likes of Angela Rayner is where you're at.

Blissex said...

«wrapped up in narrower and narrower individual level identity politics they aint never going to agree to put aside their differences»

From anecdotes of personal experience very few people care that much about identities, the "whig" propaganda organs are constantly pushing identity politics because it is needed to keep it in the face of largely indifferent voters, and they are hugely exaggerating it actual relevance.

A big example is how few of the "Remain" Conservative voters switched to the LibDems in the 2017 and 2019 general elections (that mattered as to their interest) as opposed to the 2019 european elections (that did not matter).

«put aside their differences in the name of solidarity»

Here I think that "solidarity" is a word with a bad branding, I would think that "reciprocity" is a much easier sell (yes, it is a somewhat different concept, but close enough).

«consumer individualism ideology has won»

To some extent yes, as many "proletarians" have turned partly into "investors" (rentiers), and they think that has changed their class interests. But many proletarians, even at fairly high levels of income, are still aware of their class profile, of much they depend on the whim of their boss, which is a lot less than vendors depend on their whim as consumers.

BCFG said...

I agree with some of the sentiments of anon, I have also criticised the view that anyone who earns a wage is part of the working class. This is a bullshit definition.

I also agree that woke is pure noise with either no solutions or solutions very much within the existing order of things. You might think resolving some of these issues within the existing order is reasonable but what it amounts to is just shaking up the bag. An example, to address the fact that a higher % of black people are shot by the police, the police could just shoot more white people, and most if not all woke solutions are based upon this dynamic. So throw more men into the lower orders and promote more women onto boardrooms, make more white people homeless and create a bigger black middle class. These are woke solutions. And they wonder why there is resentment!

Where I divert from Anon is the idea that somehow politics is therefore over.

Whether the consumerist idiots like it or not certain barriers are being met that will create a brake on their neverlands. Firstly there will be a decline in the West relative to the East, the Royal Navy will not have it all its own way when it comes to their piracy on the worlds shipping lanes. Secondly the climate crisis will mean market based demand production will become more and more restricted, leading to a sort of neo feudal type society or planned hierarchy as I call it. This will create new antagonisms, new class dynamics.

Already capitalism, as market based system, looks like a past relic, more and more the communist questions will arise and become more relevant, and at that point a large section of the population will be rescued from the idiocy of consumerist life.

The end of exchange is nigh!

Blissex said...

«Reasonable employers will see the light if they listen to their workers, and benefit from it.»

I have remembered this quote:
As Ralph Miliband so eloquently points out in Parliamentary Socialism, the party was founded based on an alliance between socialists and progressive liberals – and liberals have always been the dominant faction. The liberal instinct – manifested in the current Labour leadership – is towards conciliation with the powerful. The timidity of Starmerism is, in many ways, a reversion to an historical norm

There is something between conciliation and writing essays on the post-revolution society, and it is tough but realistic negotiation with the powerful.

Unknown said...