Politician of the year: Angela Rayner is one of the few to successfully connect with voters in 2023

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While Sir Keir Starmer struggles in the opinion polls, his Labour deputy Angela Rayner has been described as "straightforward" and "honest".

The last year has been a tough one for politicians. They've been exposed as "corrupt", work shy and willing to eat crocodile testicles on national television for a bit of attention, but what's new I suppose?

Rishi Sunak has struggled to shift the Conservatives’ dire poll numbers and according to a poll of Tory members, the Prime Minister is now the least popular member of his Cabinet. However, despite Labour’s commanding lead Keir Starmer has mixed reviews in focus groups, even though he has markedly improved his performance at Prime Minister’s Questions.

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So picking a politician of the year has been tough, with the Tories infighting and cautious Labour afraid of making any big promises. Given the state of affairs in British politics, it has to be someone from the opposition, and charismatic, and straight-talking Angela Rayner has proved to be a clever politician - who could be just the tonic Westminster needs if Labour gets into power.

Rayner is one of the few frontbenchers to successfully span the Corbyn and Starmer eras, while keeping her powerbase within the membership. In September, she took on the important Shadow Levelling Up, Housing and Communities role - a key part of Labour’s pitch to the country at the next general election.

Angela Rayner, centre, is NationalWorld's politician of the year. Credit: Kim Mogg/GettyAngela Rayner, centre, is NationalWorld's politician of the year. Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty
Angela Rayner, centre, is NationalWorld's politician of the year. Credit: Kim Mogg/Getty

The Deputy Leader can connect with people in a way a lot of the rest of the Shadow Cabinet can’t. She had a baby at the age of 16 and left school with no qualifications, before working her way up through the trade union movement and now the Labour Party. She’s been filmed behind the decks at the charity DJ event, and was unafraid to admit to having had a boob job.

While a recent JL Partners focus group found Starmer was “very similar to other politicians”, Rayner talks about Westminster authentically in the way a lot of the country views the corridors of power. And after a series of scandals, from Paterson and Pincher to Partygate, the 43-year-old could be the person to convince the electorate Labour will put sleaze behind them.

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The Tories have previously described Rayner as Labour’s “most potent attack dog”, which is a compliment even if it doesn’t sound like one. She’s been at the forefront of her party’s promises to ban MPs from holding second jobs - which would help restore the British public’s faith in politics and cannot come soon enough. 

Angela Rayner at the Labour Party conference. Credit: GettyAngela Rayner at the Labour Party conference. Credit: Getty
Angela Rayner at the Labour Party conference. Credit: Getty

Labour currently have a 20 percentage-point lead on the Tories in the Red Wall, the seats in the North of England that Boris Johnson won so decisively in 2019, and this appears to be partly down to Rayner. Consultancy Public First conducted focus groups amongst Conservative voters in Bolton and West Bromwich earlier in the year, and found that Rayner was the most popular politician from either party.

A woman from Bolton said: “I think she’s straightforward. She’s not afraid to say what she feels … I do listen to her when she speaks.” And a man from the West Midlands commented: “I like her honesty. It’s refreshing for me to hear somebody kind of be honest.”

James Frayne, from Public First, told the Guardian at the time: “About a year ago, Angela Rayner suddenly started surging in groups of working-class swing voters, completely unprompted. It seems as people are tired of the perceived broken promises from government, and the increasingly common robotic delivery from frontline politicians, Rayner appeared as a breath of fresh air.” 

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If Rayner can keep this up, she’ll not only be a decisive figure in opposition but a powerful Deputy Prime Minister in government.

Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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