Calling Angela Rayner ‘Lauren Cooper’ Is Yet Another Joke At the Expense of All Working-Class Women

The comparison exposes far more about widespread attitudes to working-class women than it says about scum-gate

Lauren Alesha Masheka Tanesha Felicia Jane Cooper (fictional character in The Catherine Tate Show)

Following the Deputy Labour Leader’s now infamous comments about Tory leadership, The Telegraph has likened Angela Rayner to Catherine Tate’s comedy character Lauren ‘Am I Bovvered?’ Cooper, with accompanying pap shot of Rayner smoking a fag.

So far so snigger into your artisan caffè macchiato funny.

The comparison, however, exposes far more about widespread attitudes to working-class women than it says about scum-gate.

A couple of days ago, Rayner addressed an audience at a Labour Conference reception. Rayner told the crowd:

‘We cannot get any worse than a bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, absolute pile… of banana republic… Etonian… piece of scum…’

Plenty has been said about Rayner’s use of the word scum — and I won’t rehearse that here; however, regardless of your view on Rayner’s choice of language, it’s irrefutable that Rayner’s comments have been mispresented across the press and punditry.

Rayner has been accused of ‘refusing’ to apologise for using the term ‘scum’ in her speech. But she didn’t refuse. She said she’d apologise for her comments when Boris Johnson apologises for his catalogue of racist, homophobic and sexist comments. Comments for which he’s never been called to account. Despite the negative headlines framing Rayner’s offer of a mutual apology, her suggestion is actually very reasonable.

Rayner has also been accused of insulting all Conservative voters with her ‘scum’ comment. Stephen Pollard for The Daily Mail could hardly get his breath…

Angela Rayner has form for using appalling vituperative language to delight the most rabid far-Left activists.

Yowser. Just imagine what he’ll say when he finds out about what Johnson, Gove, and Rees-Mogg have been coming out with.

Pollard goes on to opine…

In 2019, seat after seat that had been solidly Labour for generations — the so-called ‘red wall’ — fell to the Tories. By clear implication, then, Mrs Rayner believes that former Labour voters in those seats are ‘scum’

Good try but no cigar, Stephen.

Rayner isn’t calling former Labour voters ‘scum.’ That’s clear enough from her comment. I mean, I haven’t done a YouGov poll or anything but I’m pretty sure your average Conservative voter isn’t an old Etonian. She is, however, referring to Tory Leadership, the Old Etonians who’ve numerous homophobic, racist, misogynistic — and classist — comments to their name. So many, in fact, that it’s quite the project to collate them… so I’ll give just a few examples. Even Marcel Proust would have a job on fitting all the Tory leadership’s offensive comments and slurs in one place.

Where to begin…

How about in 1987 when The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP — recently appointed as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations — told an audience at a Cambridge University evening debate, that Margaret Thatcher’s policies were a “new empire” where “the happy south stamps over the cruel, dirty, toothless face of the northerner”.

What about in 1995 when Boris Johnson wrote in The Spectator that working-class men are “likely to be drunk, criminal, aimless, feckless and hopeless”.

Just so I can get this straight in my head… is the furore over Angela’s Rayner’s comments really about offensive language because the Tory leadership can knock her into a cocked hat on that front.

If you’re not convinced by the comments of Boris et al. from the eighties and nineties — perhaps you think their views have matured, or that they might be embarrassed by the opinions of their youth — well, do I have something for you…

For a start, as The Independent reported, Boris Johnson has refused to disown the numerous racist comments he’s made during his career. In 2002 he wrote in The Telegraph:

“What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.”

In the same article, not content with only one racial slur, he referred to African people as having “watermelon smiles”.

In the same year, Johnson wrote in The Spectator that British colonialism in Africa is “not a blot upon our conscience” and that “the problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”

Then, in 2018, Johnson was reported to the Equalities Commission after comparing Muslim women who wear burqas to “letter boxes” and bank robbers in an article for The Telegraph.

“it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes … If a constituent came to my MP’s surgery with her face obscured, I should feel fully entitled — like Jack Straw — to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly. If a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber then ditto: those in authority should be allowed to converse openly with those that they are being asked to instruct. As for individual businesses or branches of government — they should of course be able to enforce a dress code that enables their employees to interact with customers; and that means human beings must be able to see each other’s faces and read their expressions. It’s how we work.”

Johnson’s already appalling comments haven’t aged well in a global pandemic when we’ve all had to don masks to school, university and work.

So, Johnson’s career isn’t so much marked by abusive comments as drenched in them. Let’s not forget that the racist comments about Muslim women were made after Johnson had resigned as Foreign secretary, over his disagreement with Theresa May’s plan for Brexit. This after many had already called for him to go, following a number of disasters and public gaffs: in other words, his record of making offensive remarks reflects not just the bad habits of a sensation-hungry journalist, but the bad practice of terrible politician.

I mean, this bloke has got serious form. In which case, how has he managed to side-step the level of controversy that Rayner’s comments have received? After all, the comments by Tory leadership are in a different league of offensive to Rayner’s comparatively tame ‘scum’ utterance.

Of course, there have been attempts to call Johnson to account but — and this is the key issue — they haven’t been successful so far.

So, how come the Tory leadership aren’t subject to the same level of vitriol for their repeated use of homophobic and racist slurs? Is this really about word choice… I’m not so sure.

I think The Telegraph gives us a clue with their take on Rayner and ‘scumgate’ ‘The Making of ‘Am I Bovvered’ Angela Rayner.’

Firebrands have their place in politics, yet neither Prescott nor female pioneers like Barbara Castle would have been crass enough to refer to the very people they need to win over as “scum”. By emphasising the rough, Rayner risks losing sight of the diamond … Even the “excuse” that Rayner’s words were spoken in drink, however, only plays up to the cliché of a sweary working-class northerner satirised with relish by BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers team.

The article is a confusion of smug classism. Rayner is likened to a ‘rough diamond’ who ‘emphasises the rough’ but ‘risks losing sight of the diamond.’ I’m surprised that the author has the gall to call out Emily Thornberry on her suggestion that Rayner may have ‘partaken’ of alcohol before the speech as a playing up to a working-class cliché (satirised on BBC Radio 4 no less) when he’s throwing around labels like ‘rough’ to describe a woman from a working-class background.

The piece ends with a section titled ‘What the Voters Think of Angela Rayner’. Simon (not his real name), 55, from Manchester makes some insightful comments on the intersection of gender, class and performance…

I’m no fashionista, on ladies’ fashion especially, but she doesn’t conduct herself well. If you want to be in power, you can’t be walking around in big, stompy boots and flowery tops — you’re supposed to look respectable. But she’s looking like an old northern fishwife.

If you’re going to smoke and you’re in that sort of position, don’t get caught doing it while there’s paparazzi outside.

Thank you for that, Simon (not his real name).

Seriously, Not His Real Name Simon’s comments get to the heart of Rayner’s real crime in ‘scumgate’: its’s her class presentation — and what’s considered ladylike.

Accents, dress, and habits (like smoking) and the social qualities attributed to them form the basis of many of our most common stereotypes. Think of some of this century’s most iconic characters… What made Vicky Pollard such an audience pleaser? What is it about Lauren Cooper that’s so amusing? What exactly are we laughing at when comedies invoke cultural stereotypes through gender and class performance?

The backlash on Rayner highlights the disquieting bases on which working-class women are judged — it also shows that for all the hand-wringing about living in a world of wokery, when it comes to addressing social prejudices we’re still all mouth.

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Katie Edwards

Author and broadcaster. Rep’d by Jon Wood at Rogers, Coleridge and White Literary Agency. https://linktr.ee/KatieBEdwards