Britain needs to decide whether it wants serious politicians capable to fixing the country or circus performers, people who might be fun down the pub but you wouldn’t dream of calling to fix even your wonky spice rack
“Aggressive, brutaal en gepraat met kennis van die werklike wêreld en sy probleme,”Gesê Cathy Newman, writing for Die Onafhanklike. “Flame haired fury,” gushed The Daily Telegraph. Ja, you read the source of that headline right. “Starmer must learn from Angela Rayner.”
“You have to give it to Angela Rayner there. She thrashed Dominic Raab in that PMQs opening,” tweeted Kate Ferguson, deputy political editor at Die son. “Fiery, snaaks, mischievous.” And there was plenty more like it.
After chopping up the plank she was faced with like a lumberjack with a freshly sharpened axe, Rayner seems to have become an overnight success story seven years in the making, not to mention a clear and present danger to her under-fire boss with the Labour Party Conference just around the corner. And it makes my head ache because, wel, look around you.
Politics isn’t my specialism. But I often find myself writing about the consequences of politicians’ actions or inaction. Nou dadelik, those consequences are dire. I can’t remember a situation like this since I was a kid.
Think about it. We are seeing petrol stations closing because of a lack of fuel. Supermarkets are running short of food. Energy prices are soaring through the roof and not a week goes by without an energy company going bust. Millions of people face a winter of desperate hardship. Crops have been rotting in the fields. I could go on.
Every day I read missives from business groups, unions, and other bodies pointing to these problems and pleading for solutions. I’m starting to see just a hint of despair in them because they’re howling into the wind.
Has the gap between the Westminster scorecard and what’s going on in the rest of the country ever been wider? Politicians are often accused of being out of touch but these days they seem to be hermetically sealed off from the real world. What emerges from the bubble they occupy seems similarly disconnected.
Why should this surprise us? You can bet that Westminster’s bars won’t be running short of subsidised beer and champagne and there’ll be plenty of chicken for the restaurants that have menus displayed on the wood panelled lifts.
Against that backdrop, the “nyah, nyagh, yah boo sucks to you” spectacle of PMQs is a grim one regardless of the winning and losing. We’re told that the weekly performance is terribly important. But to most Britons it counts for nothing.
What does count for something is what politicians do, and the vision they have for changing lives. Through that lens, far more important than chowing down on wet Raab lettuce is Rayner’s contribution to the important debate over pay and employment through her proposals for fair pay agreements, drawn up together with Andy McDonald. That is something that matters. Those ideas have potential. The TUC describes them as “game changing”. There might even be votes in them.
Communication matters too, I’m not denying that. Rayner is proving she’s good at it. Starmer could indeed stand to do it better. I’m not saying that those who say he could learn something from his ambitious deputy don’t have a point. I also think we could do with more people with Rayner’s background in public life (she is a former carer who left school without qualifications). Having experienced hardship growing up myself, I can testify that it matters.
But perhaps we prize things like “authenticity” and “likeability” too highly. Part of the reason Johnson won is because there were enough voters who found him likeable to swing the result decisively his way.
Britain really needs to decide whether it wants serious politicians capable of fixing the country or circus performers, people who might be fun down the pub but you wouldn’t dream of calling to fix even your wonky spice rack. At the moment, the circus performers are in charge and they are nearly all clowns. The rotten results we’re living with speak for themselves.
There’s likely to be some clowning around at the Labour conference too, maybe involving Rayner if she’s still minded to stab her boss in the back. There’ll certainly be some of it among people who still haven’t worked out that their focus should not be on buffing up the next big thing but on handing the real clowns their P45s.