Red Queen? The Unauthorised Biography of Angela Rayner by Michael Ashcroft - review by Anne Perkins

Anne Perkins

Labouring the Point

Red Queen? The Unauthorised Biography of Angela Rayner


Biteback 368pp £20

The first Red Queen was Lewis Carroll’s. She was irrational and unpredictable, characteristics widely attributed by men to women. When the broadcaster Michael Cockerell conferred the title on Barbara Castle in his brilliant BBC television profile of her in 1995, it was not meant entirely as a compliment. Castle, however, always saw it as one and it has since become something of an honour sought by each new generation of female Labour MPs. 

Michael Ashcroft – aka Lord Ashcroft, though he gave up his seat in the House of Lords to resume his non-dom tax status in 2015 – suggests that Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, might be the next titleholder. She has both the political status and the appearance, being red-haired, to carry off the crown. This may not be quite what Ashcroft is getting at. Perhaps he merely wants to put the idea into your head that Keir Starmer is sheltering a radical lefty at the top of the Labour Party. The biography itself, however, faithfully reports Rayner’s pragmatism. The most interesting political argument it reveals is one between her and John McDonnell over education spending. He wanted to scrap tuition fees; she wanted money to go instead on early years education provision (he won). 

Rayner and Castle were born seventy years apart. Castle didn’t become a cabinet minister until she was fifty-four and had been an MP for nearly twenty years. She sat in all of Harold Wilson’s cabinets in a series of increasingly senior jobs, brilliantly successful at least until 1969. She seemed

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