Almost no MP has emerged with dignity from the sleaze debacle of the past three weeks. Boris Johnson’s botched attempt to spare Owen Paterson a 30-day suspension has badly damaged his credibility with his own party. The 2019 intake of ‘red wall’ MPs have turned on the old guard, accusing their colleagues of damaging the party’s reputation through outside interests. Opposition leaders have struggled to capitalise on Tory disarray. Ed Davey’s £78,000-a-year job as a consultant has left him out of the debate and Keir Starmer has faced questions over his outside earnings for legal work.
But there is one politician who suffers from none of these problems: Angela Rayner. Instead, Labour’s deputy leader has emerged as the government’s tormentor-in-chief. ‘She’s the most potent attack dog,’ says one senior Tory.
Rayner’s supporters say her background gives her an air of authenticity in the second jobs row. She left school pregnant aged 16 and worked as a care worker and trade union representative before entering politics. For her, the £82,000 MP’s salary is not a hardship that needs to be supplemented. It’s the most she has earned in her life, just as it is far more than most voters can expect to earn in theirs. Her anger over outside interests seems genuine.
When Starmer gave a speech announcing plans to press the Tories on second jobs, he felt the need to bring Rayner in as his warm-up act. ‘A lot of the attacks have been blunted by the fact people like Starmer and [David] Lammy do outside work but with Rayner it’s much harder,’ says one minister. ‘It’s a crisis crafted for her.’ She has certainly been making the most of it, threatening to report badly behaved MPs to the standards commissioner. This is ‘driving our side bonkers’, says one Tory.