Could Angela Rayner be Labour’s first female leader? Her friends and allies seem to think so, judging by the level of briefing that has occurred in recent months. Beginning in the aftermath of the Hartlepool contest in May, the mischief-making culminated eight weeks later in the Times headline the day after the Batley and Spen by-election: ‘Big unions ready to back Angela Rayner against Sir Keir Starmer.’
Such shenanigans have left the Ashton-under-Lyme MP with more titles than Idi Amin. The Grand Poobah now boasts the posts of ‘deputy leader, deputy leader of the opposition, shadow first secretary of state, shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and shadow secretary of state for the future of work’ - a veritably Osbornesque approach to job collection.
To challenge Starmer of course, any MP – whoever she or he may be – would need to be nominated by 40 of their parliamentary colleagues or 20 per cent of the parliamentary party. Nominations must be submitted in written form to the general-secretary of the party. It would therefore be most convenient for any contender to have the equipment on site to organise such an application.
Mr Steerpike was therefore interested to learn that Rayner has in fact recently claimed from IPSA a £1,440 letter-folding and inserting machine for her office. The date for the claim was 17 March – just one day after Mike Hill’s resignation triggered the Hartlepool by-election. Unlike Rayner’s notorious £249 AirPods, such equipment could be said to aid constituents in responding to correspondence, though it would no doubt come in handy if needed to suddenly dispatch a number of letters to colleagues or party activists too.
Famously it was the discovery that 'friends' of Michael Portillo had been installing telephone lines during the 1995 Tory leadership race which helped derail the then Cabinet minister’s dreams of No. 10. When asked about the purpose of this device, a Rayner spokesman would only tell Mr S: ‘All expenses claims for the running of Angela’s parliamentary office were declared in line with IPSA rules.’ Admittedly there is nothing in the aforementioned rules about overweening ambition…
Rayner does have form on the letter-writing front, having used House of Commons letter headed paper in 2015 to complain about not being able to purchase a pair of Star Wars shoes. The then unknown backbencher penned a strongly-worded complaint to vent her frustration over a pair of £195 R2-D2 heels after they sold out before she could buy them.
Mr S looks forward to seeing what purposes Rayner’s new device gets used for in future.