Angela Rayner’s working class background would not stand in the way of her ability to lead, the shadow education secretary has said amid speculation she would be a front-runner for Labour’s prospective deputy female leader role.
Speaking at Labour’s annual party conference in Liverpool, Rayner told Guardian editor Katharine Viner that MPs with working class backgrounds have it “beaten out of them”.
The Ashton-under-Lyne MP - who has a strong northern accent - explained that every time she appears on the Today programme she gets letters telling her: “If only you spoke properly”.
“There are lots of people that come from my background, but unfortunately they’re told: ’You’ll never be taken seriously if you do the sorts of stories I’ve done, if you say you’re proud of being from the background I’m from, if you wear the fact you had to go to the university of life to get the life skills I have,” Rayner told the fringe event.
“People think: ’That’s really nice for you to say, but you will never get the opportunity to lead because people don’t see that as leadership material, so really you should be quiet about that,” she added, calling it “really disappointing”.
Asked whether she is leadership material, the shadow cabinet minister replied: “I think anyone can achieve if they’re given the opportunity to, I genuinely do.”
The MP has been vocal about her background growing up on benefits on a council estate in Stockport, saying having a baby at 16 “saved her”. While her mother was unable to read or write, Rayner herself went on to leave school without any qualifications.
“I try my best to stay true to who I am,” Rayner told Viner. “I don’t pronounce all of my words how they do on the BBC at times and that’s okay, because I sound like the people I grew up with.”
Her statement comes amid suggestions Rayner would be a key candidate for Labour’s possible new post of female deputy leader, which the party’s National Executive Committee voted in favour of on Saturday night.
The prospective role has sparked controversy in the party, but speaking about all-women shortlists, Rayner said that she backs hard equality targets “because I don’t think we can wait for hundreds of years to get where we need to be.”
At a HuffPost UK Waugh Zone Live event on Sunday, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth hinted he would back Rayner in a prospective race for deputy female leader.
Asked who he would support if the position was created, he agreed that Rayner, Labour’s business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey and Dawn Butler would “all be very good contenders” - but appeared to through his weight behind Rayner.
“Angela Rayner is great,” he told the fringe event. “Good friend of mine, working class woman. Trade unionist, former care worker.
“Angela Rayner is brilliant,” Ashworth added, “but is it going to through?”
Delegates at the Labour conference are due to vote on the prospective role on Sunday.