Angela Rayner has declined to apologise for calling the Conservatives “scum”, saying she was using “street language” to convey her “anger and frustration” at the actions of the government.
Speaking to Trevor Phillips on Sunday on Sky News, Labour’s deputy leader said the comments were made “post-watershed…with a group of activists at an event last night” at the party’s annual conference in Brighton.
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She said she was trying to convey in a “passionate way” the “anger and frustration that people feel when you have a prime minister, who has said things and not apologised that are racist, that are misogynistic, that are homophobic, that has given billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to their mates and literally wasted that money”.
Ms Rayner continued: “My passion was about look, we can’t sit on the sidelines here, we have to get organised.
“I was speaking to a group of activists to say you’ve got to get that fire in your belly.”
According to the Daily Mirror, she told the event on Saturday night: “We cannot get any worse than a bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, absolute vile… banana republic, vile, nasty, Etonian… piece of scum.”
To applause, Ms Rayner added that she had “held back a little”.
Questioned about the comments on Sky News, Labour’s deputy leader said she was referring to Boris Johnson and his top team of ministers.
And she doubled down on it, declaring: “I think anyone who leaves children hungry during a pandemic and can give billions of pounds for their mates on WhatsApp, I think that was pretty scummy.
“It’s a phrase you would hear very often in northern working class towns, that we’d even say it jovially to other people, we say it’s a scummy thing to do.
“That to me is my street language, as you would say, about actually it’s pretty appalling that people think that’s OK to do.”
Ms Rayner stressed she was not saying that anyone who voted for the party was “scum”, adding: “I’m not saying anybody who voted Conservative are those things, I’m saying the prime minister has said those things and acted in that way.
Referring to past comments from Mr Johnson, which includes him comparing burka-wearing Muslim women to “letter boxes” and describing gay men as “tank-topped bum boys”, she continued: “If the prime minister wants to apologise and remove himself from those comments that he’s made that are homophobic, that are racist, that are misogynistic then I will apologise for calling him scummy.”
The PM has been challenged numerous times over the years about some of his past comments.
Questioned by Sky News back in 2019, during his successful campaign to become Tory leader, Mr Johnson said he would not be “muffled” and “will continue to speak directly”.
He claimed the British public felt “alienated” from those in Westminster “because too often they feel we are muffling and veiling our language”.
“If sometimes in the course of trying to get across what I genuinely think, I use phrases and language that have caused offence, of course I’m sorry for the offence that I have caused,” Mr Johnson told Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby.
Asked about his deputy’s remarks, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show it was “not language that I would use”.
Pressed on whether Ms Rayner should apologise, he said: “That’s a matter for Angela. I would not have used those words.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the comments were “absolutely appalling” and Ms Rayner should apologise.
“There’s just no place in public life for that sort of language, that sort of behaviour,” he told Sky News.
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 Ms Rayner was “talking crap”.
But Labour’s former shadow chancellor John McDonnell defended the party’s deputy leader, telling Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “We’ve all been there, late at night, getting very angry about what’s going on. What I like about Angie Rayner is that she’s human.
“She may well drop herself in it, just as I have time and time again, but she’s human and she has human emotions and when you get angry about something sometimes the language that you use might be over the top.”
Speaking to Times Radio, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said “it’s not my preferred choice of words”.
“I’m not very interested in insulting the Tories. I just want to get rid of them,” she said.
“I’m as angry as Angela is about the damage that they’re doing, but I’m less interested in talking about them and more interested in putting forward an alternative.”