Eleven years after their catastrophic defeat in 1997, the Conservatives were very much back in winning-power mode. David Cameron had won the leadership and with it a mandate to overhaul the party, even if he was forced to change course by the 2008 financial crash.
The same span of time has now passed since Labour lost office in 2010. But judging by the headlines coming out of their conference in Brighton, they are still some distance from seriously contending for office. At least that’s what some of their most senior figures seem to think – and they don’t care if the public know it.
Angela Rayner’s childish rant about Tory ‘scum’ was unedifying, and speaks poorly to her judgement. Her attempt to pretend that it was simply a cheery term of endearment in the North was extraordinarily patronising.
More than that, it demonstrates a clear lack of faith in Sir Keir Starmer. Not merely because she has refused to apologise, and he lacked the spirit to demand that she do so. But because she’s obviously pitching to the Labour activists who will choose the next leader if the party loses its fifth consecutive general election.
Perhaps she felt the need to get out ahead of Andy Burnham, of ‘Never Kissed a Tory’ t-shirt fame, who has been busy conducting his own manoeuvres, refusing to back Starmer’s rules changes and complaining that Labour’s metro mayors have been ‘sidelined’ at conference. Probably the plan would be to switch to a more collegial mode after securing the prize.
The affair reinforces the impression, leant by her constantly playing up her background to an electorate that happily handed Boris Johnson a comfortable majority, that Rayner is too willing to stick to the left-wing comfort zone. Millions of Labour voters switched to the Conservatives at the last election. Her rant might not have been slurring them directly, but it displayed a fundamental disrespect for their choice.
If the first step back to power is accepting that voters were at least partly right to throw you out, Rayner seems not to be the woman to make it.