Labour’s standard bearer of the left is sticking with Sir Keir in the center ground to win power | Political News

There’s a reason why I wanted to ask Angela Rayner about increasing NHS spending to kick off our interview.

It was a question about politics as much as policy. Labor is on the cusp of winning power and as the party gets closer to line, the radicalism of the Corbyn era, which Sir Keir Starmer Promised to honour, is being wiped from the project.

So the obvious theme I wanted to explore in this interview with Labour’s standard bearer of the left Angela Rayner was how comfortable is she with this shift? And the answer in a nutshell was very.

When it came to spending more to improve the NHS, she stuck to the party line – that improving the NHS was about reforming services not putting more money in.

When I pointed out to her that the £6.6bn additional funding the Conservatives have promised over the next two years for the NHS was going to get eaten up by inflation and the increasing demand of an aging population, and so did the NHS also need more money, she stuck to the line: “It’s about how you spend the cash.”

Now, any supporter of the Labor left might have thought that a Labor party promising to put more money into the NHS than their Conservative counterparts is an uncontroversial policy? “But it’s not the cure,” Ms. Rayner told me. “It’s not just about throwing money into the NHS.”

Like her boss Sir Keir and her shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, Ms Rayner is very much on board with the Labor leader’s statement last week that the public shouldn’t expect Labor to “open up the spending checkbook” going into the election of 2024.

If it all seems reminiscent of the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown approach ahead of the 1997 election, it’s because it is.

‘Principles would not have fed me’: Angela Rayner says she has to compromise to win power

Back then the duo promised to stick to the Tories’ spending envelope for the first two years of Labor government in order to get voters to trust them on the economy, and these days it seems that all the radicalism of the Corbyn era has been eradicated as Sir Keir sticks to the center ground, refusing anything as bold as spending or tax pledges in order not to upset the apple cart.

He might be thinking, when you’re twenty points ahead in the polls, what do you have to change?

But those on the left who supported him when he ran for leadership, may well feel let down.

He promised no NHS outsourcing, and now Labor is proposing using private provision to cut waiting lists. He promised to nationalize the rail, mail, energy and water industries as part of his Labor leadership pitch in 2020 with the promise to put “public services in public hands”.

Britain's Labor Party deputy leader Angela Rayner looks on next to Labor Party leader Keir Starmer, at Britain's Labor Party's annual conference in Liverpool, Britain, September 26, 2022. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Angela Rayner is sticking with Sir Keir in the center ground

It begs the question of whether Sir Keir made out he was more left wing than he really was in order to win. How can voters trust him if he rows back on pledges? And how can Ms Rayner, who is flatmates with the person on the left he defeated, Rebecca Long-Bailey, not have an issue with that?

If she does, she disguises it well in our interview, insisting that the overriding principle about everything Labor is doing is about delivery for the public.

Is she in some way prepared to sacrifice principles for power?

“Principles would not have fed me,” she says, referring to the free school meals the New Labor government brought to her life growing up in Stockport. “I have to compromise as part of the team,” she says. “There are things I don’t always get.”

“The last Labor government delivered so much to working class people like me, from the council estates I grew up on. We are not about [being] ideological. We are about how we can deliver pragmatically.”

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When it comes to tax, Ms Rayner was too cautious.

Sir Keir Starmer promised in 2020 when seeking the Labor leadership, that the top 5% should pay more tax.

Again, it seems like something that Ms Rayner would want. But when I asked her if she’d hold Sir Keir to that pledge she said she didn’t want to “steal Rachel [Reeves, shadow chancellor]’s thunder”, instead going as far as she had before: “I think the principle is absolutely right that those with the broadest shoulders should pay more.”

But this is a left-winger who didn’t even want to give a straight answer of the specific policy on whether the top 5% of earners should pay more tax.

The most I could tell Ms Rayner to say is that Labor should look at asking rental landlords to pay more tax (one suggestion is to extend national insurance contributions to investment income, which could see more tax on rental income).

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For me, Ms Rayner’s message of discipline and willingness to stand united with a leader she has clashed with in the past and not try to push an agenda that strays anywhere from the center ground was the story of the interview.

And why? The past election losses were “devastating” for this politician. “For seven years since I became a Labor MP I’ve watched us lose time and time again… none of [the policies I’ve worked on] will ever happen unless we convince the British government that we are responsible about getting into government and we can deliver.”

What I learned most from Angela Rayner was about what she wouldn’t say. The standard bearer of the left doesn’t want to fight that internal battle, instead she will stick with Sir Keir in the center ground on tax and spending in order to win power.

And then will the radicalism really begin? The Labor leadership is going to spend the next 18 months trying to reassure the public it won’t.


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