Angela Rayner’s outburst was refreshing and relatable.
I’m sure no one missed Angela Rayner commenting “scum” in the House of Commons during Tory MP Chris Clarkson’ speech on 21 October 2020. Even if you don’t follow politics, it was plastered all over the media and socials. Rayner was called out by Chris Clarkson at the time when he asked “Did the honourable lady just call me scum?”, and Rayner was immediately reprimanded by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Eleanor Laing. She officially apologised the next day.
Now I’m not saying that her outburst was appropriate for the House of Commons, nor overly professional. But when I saw it, I related entirely. Tory MP Chris Clarkson’s speech was highly critical of the Labour Party’s opposition to the pandemic, accusing opportunism and strategic “exploitation” of the global health crisis. Rayner, as Deputy Leader of the Opposition, was sitting on the front bench in the Commons listening to his attack. In the clip, you can hear a heavy northern accent shout “scum”, which evidently turned out to be Rayner.
Rayner being Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, or an MP at all, breaks the status quo. She was brought up on a council estate and went to a state school, which she left at 16 without any qualifications and a baby on the way. She’s working class and has always stood up for the working class. She knows what it’s like to not have a privileged upbringing, unlike the 29% of MPs who went to an independent school. Rayner never went to University – 85% of the MPs currently in the Commons did.
Earlier in her career, she became the most senior elected official of UNISON in the North West of England. Working as a Trade Union representative allowed her to fight against what she had experienced herself – low pay, long hours and zero hours contracts. Rayner holds her own and I respect her profusely for that. Hearing her northern accent in the House of Commons is something of a novelty. It shouldn’t be, but it is. And as a Northern girl myself, I love hearing it. The days should be gone where accents are frowned upon and used as an indicator of intellect.
But as a loud and opinionated woman, I respect her “scum” outburst even more. I’m passionate about a lot of things, and I’ve often thought retrospectively how it could have been more helpful to my cause during a debate if I didn’t swear when making my point.
I get called feisty or fierce all the time, words that I’ve never heard being used to describe a man’s behaviour. There’s been reactions to my outbursts before that point to the classic ‘woman who cannot control her emotions’ line or that I’m a bit ‘hysterical’. But tell me, what is wrong with showing some passion? Why do people need to be stone cold when talking about the things they’re interested in? For Rayner, she was sat in the House of Commons – the place that influences real Government policy. And in the pandemic, every move from the Government directly affects the death rate somehow. Of course she should be passionate, of course she should be pissed off when her Party’s criticisms of the Government (which are substantially lacking, by the way) are described as opportunism. Not to mention her personal involvement in the matter – her Aunt had just died from coronavirus and she spoke about this in her opening speech to Parliament that day.
Too many times have I been in a debate with a group of men (usually older than me, or in a higher position of power that they choose to remind me of), and they undermine my argument or speak over me. I hate to think how many times I’ve sat through a long session of mansplaining about something I already knew everything about. So if, on occasion, I let you know that I’m annoyed about how you’re patronising me – no, I don’t regret it. I might apologise sometimes nonetheless.
*Little disclaimer to those reading this thinking I’m making a gender issue out of nothing, and really this is nothing to do with the fact that I’m a woman and it’s men interjecting/interrupting/talking over/condescending me: if women in a mixed-gender group talk 15% of the time, men perceive the gender contribution to be equal. If women talk 30% of the time, they are perceived as dominating the discussion. I’m not making this up. Gender roles in conversation, particularly groups, are prevalent.*
Everyone has outbursts – it’s only human to do so. People pick up on it and say it’s wrong, like the media did with Rayner (which they did a lot, by the way). Her outburst wasn’t professional, but lets not forget other MPs who haven’t had the most professional outbursts.
Dennis Skinner was ordered to leave the House of Commons after calling David Cameron “Dodgy Dave” in 2016. He’s also called half the Conservative Party “crooks”, talked about Tory MPs doing lines of coke and called another MP a “pompous sod”. Brexiteer Tory MP Michael Fabricant shouted “bollocks” in the House of Commons in 2016, which he later apologised to Speaker John Bercow for, claiming he was frustrated at MPs who were scaremongering the population about Brexit (i.e. being realistic about the economic consequences). He wasn’t jumped on by the press for it – Michael Gove even laughed.
And so Rayner apologised for her antics, as the press pressured her to do so. Maybe Boris Johnson should apologise for calling gay men ‘tank-topped bumboys’ and black people ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’. Or for saying that Muslim women wearing burkas ‘look like letter boxes’, comparing them to ‘bank robbers’. Or does he not have to, because they weren’t outbursts in the House of Commons, these were calculated remarks which caused much more offense (and have contributed to the transphobic/racist rhetoric and increase in hate crimes so prominent in British society). Does it have an impact that he’s a man? Could a woman go around saying these things and not be vilified for it? I’ll let you make your own opinion on that.
The fact is, Rayner is a passionate politician who’s been through some hard times. She’s not had privilege, and this shows in her passion about helping those in need. I rate her outburst highly. She reminded me not to be afraid to be passionate, because it’s not wrong to be so. And if Rayner had to apologise to save her image, why the hell do we have an unapologetically racist Prime Minister?