Labour conference: Angela Rayner stands by calling Boris Johnson 'scum'

  • Published
Media caption,

Angela Rayner: "I will apologise when Boris apologises for saying the comments he has made."

Angela Rayner says she will apologise for calling Boris Johnson "scum" when he retracts past comments she described as homophobic, racist and misogynistic.

Labour's deputy leader was reported to have called Tory ministers "a bunch of scum" at a Labour conference event.

One Conservative minister accused Ms Rayner of "talking crap", while another urged her to apologise.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would not have used that language and would "talk to her later".

Ms Rayner was reported to have made her remarks about Mr Johnson at a reception on Saturday evening.

Asked on Sunday morning if she would retract the remarks, she said she believed the prime minister was a "racist, homophobic misogynist".

"I think he needs to apologise for comments he has made in the past," Ms Rayner told the BBC, adding: "I will apologise when Boris apologises for saying the comments he has made, I will retract that he is scum."

The prime minister has often faced criticism from his opponents over his comments on race and sexuality while working as a journalist.

Sir Keir told the BBC's Andrew Marr show: "Angela and I take a different approach and that is not the language I would have used."

Pressed on whether he would be asking her to apologise, he said it was a matter for her.

Why won't Sir Keir Starmer be telling Angela Rayner to apologise for her comments even though he says he wouldn't have used that language?

Maybe he just does not want to help the story to live longer?

Or perhaps he finds it useful to have a wing-woman who can say the stuff he can't. John Prescott arguably played a similar role for Tony Blair.

Or is it because Labour's deputy leader has her own direct relationship with the members who elected her and she was speaking at a party event, so he thinks it's not really his turf?

Or perhaps he has already learned - after this year's shadow cabinet reshuffle - that, when pushed, Ms Rayner fights back - hard and in public.

And like the tussle over the changes to the party's internal rulebook, it's another reminder that at Labour conference the leader is in charge but also at the mercy of a vast and noisy machine.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy distanced herself from Ms Rayner's comments, telling BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House, it was "not the way that I would choose to articulate my anger".

But former Unite union leader Len McCluskey called Ms Rayner's comments "pretty accurate", adding: "There is an angry mood out there. I think Angie captures it."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
A Tory MP apologised for his WhatsApp comments about Labour chair Anneliese Dodds

Conservative chairman Oliver Dowden said: "At a time when the country is trying to pull together to recover from Covid, the last thing we need is the deputy leader of the Labour Party calling people 'scum' and yelling insults.

"We need to make politics better, not drag it into the gutter. Let's see if we get an apology."

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the Conservative Party had had two female prime ministers, that two of the most senior cabinet ministers were women and two were from minority ethnic backgrounds, and that the public knew Ms Rayner was "talking crap".

Meanwhile, Conservative MP James Gray has apologised for joking on WhatsApp that "a bomb" should be delivered to the House of Commons office of Labour Party chairman Anneliese Dodds.

"It was a foolish remark," he told the Mail on Sunday, adding: "I meant no offence and hope none was taken."

In October last year, Ms Rayner apologised for calling a Conservative MP "scum" in the House of Commons.

Vote on rule changes

The controversy over her remarks on the PM comes ahead of the Labour conference, in Brighton, voting on leader Sir Keir's proposed changes to the party's rules.

These include future leadership candidates needing the backing of 20% of Labour MPs - rather than the current 10% - to get on to a party-wide ballot.

Sir Keir also wants to make it harder for local parties to deselect sitting MPs and scrap the rule allowing "registered supporters", who pay a one-off fee, to vote in leadership elections.

Len McCluskey, a supporter of Sir Keir's more left-wing predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, told the BBC News Channel the planned rule changes were "disgraceful" and "right-wing manoeuvring".

"It's not what the British people are interested in talking about," he added. "They want to know about what's happening at petrol stations, electricity and gas charges, what's happening to universal credit."