Recently, the Deputy Leader of the Labour party Angela Rayner said something that seemed to completely shock some quarters: she drinks and vapes.... yep, like many of us.
Speaking to comedian Matt Forde at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Rayner, 43, said: ‘I was ashamed the other day because I got three bottles of wine and eight packs of Juul2 vapes and that was it, that's all I had in my basket and I did actually think "I need to put some fruit in there."' She revealed this has led her children to nickname her ‘The Vape Dragon’, because she can’t give up the habit. 'Vaping is probably really bad for you and I will find out one day, but yeah I enjoy a good vape,' she added.
Discussing her recent holiday to Spain, Rayner also shared that she partied well into the early hours. ‘The girls I was raving with are half my age, and I was like "I'm a grandma". I was proud of that,’ she said. ‘4pm I started, and I got home at six o'clock in the morning when the sun was shining and I was like, “Yes, I can do it.”’
Angela’s interview quickly attracted the attention of critics, who were predictably po-faced. Why? Probably because the person in question is a working class, female politician from the North. The resulting narrative surrounding Rayner’s comment was one of 'concern', with her social life being frowned upon and tutted at.
One newspaper wrote: ‘Angela Rayner boasts she’s “proud” of 12-hour “rave” sessions while on holiday in Spain and admits to living off unhealthy foods and having a vape addiction.’ On social media, the debate intensified. Sharing a link to the article, one Twitter user wrote: ‘This could be the next #DeputyPrimeMinister. The UK is a mess! What a disgrace.’ A comment from another user reads: ‘All that sounds like fun, but we need a serious person to take care of the government. We already had a fun guy, remember? It didn't work well for us.’
But why shouldn’t a hard-working woman - or anyone, in fact - be able to let their hair down on holiday? She's showing she relaxes in the way most of us do. A lot of the time we see a polished version of politicians. Either it's completely unrealistic and lacking sincerity, or they're too far removed from the rest of us to be making decisions about how we live our lives. We'd rather someone genuinely relatable who isn't afraid to admit to the unpolished, messier sides of their life.
Some posh, male politicians even aspire to being ‘relatable’ and try trick us into thinking they are, and then they’re celebrated for it despite it being completely inauthentic. Take, David Cameron 'forgetting' which football team he supported. Knowing that he needed to look down to Earth and a football fan to win over support.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s jolly, blundering persona - purposefully aimed at giving the impression that he's the kinda fella you'd want to have a drink with down the pub - felt like a front during several scandals during his time in office. But many still warmed to him because, to some, his supposed 'relatability' made him seem like 'one of the chaps'.
The reaction to Angela's comments forms part of a wider disparity, where working class people are demonised for the same behaviours that posh people are considered 'quirky' for. When Boris Johnson admitted he smoked ‘quite a few spliffs’ at university it was brushed off, and when Nigel Farage balanced a pint on his head, he was dubbed a fun-loving ‘man of the people.’ At most, these men might be lightly mocked in memes or Twitter threads before their antics are swept under the carpet. Yet when Angela Rayner admits she’s partial to a boozy night or two, it’s spun to make her out as irresponsible. Angela is judged for her genuine relatability. And let’s not forget that her drinking is entirely within the law, unlike some of her counterparts caught up in the Partygate scandal.
Some social media users have, thankfully, come to Rayner’s defence. One tweet reads: ‘This might as well say Angela Rayner is a typical British person - probably makes her more relatable.’
Sadly, misogynistic reactions to female politicians are nothing new. Need we remind you of the infamous Daily Mail article that compared Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon’s legs, with the troubling headline: ‘Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!’
Working class people are demonised for the same behaviours that posh people are considered 'quirky' for.
When it comes to speculation around the private lives of male and female politicians, it’s a similar story. In 2021, Keir Starmer’s aid Carolyn Harris resigned after it was alleged that she spread rumours about Rayner’s personal life. In response, Rayner said: ‘Boris Johnson gets celebrated by the fact that nobody knows how many kids he’s got…I’ve not done anything wrong. I’m living my life like everybody else is. It’s not relevant to what I do. But somehow Boris Johnson, it makes him a lad.’
For us, hearing Rayner admit her vices is refreshing. It’s what makes her human at a time when so many of those making our laws seem out of touch. But, likely because of her gender and background, anytime she does it it will become another one of the countless hurdles she must face throughout her career.