Angela Rayner has stood by her description of the Conservatives as “homophobic, racist, misogynistic … scum” after the Labour leader distanced himself from her words.
On Sunday, amid tensions with Starmer over the party’s proposed rule changes, the deputy Labour leader declined to apologise for her remarks, which were made at a Labour conference reception the day before.
“We cannot get any worse than a bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, absolute vile … banana republic, vile, nasty, Etonian … piece of scum,” she said at the event, before adding that she had “held back a little”.
Her remarks drew criticism from some Tories, while two shadow cabinet ministers – Lisa Nandy and Ed Miliband – said they would not use the same terms.
But speaking on Sunday, Rayner defended her comments as being made in the “street language” of her northern working-class roots.
Rayner said she would say sorry only if Boris Johnson apologised for past comments he made “that are homophobic, that are racist, that are misogynistic” – a reference to the prime minister’s previous comments including comparing burka-wearing Muslim women to “letterboxes” and describing gay men as “tank-topped bum boys”.
The deputy Labour leader said her comments, made in a “post-watershed” reception, were an attempt to get across the “anger and frustration” felt about Johnson and the cabinet. “Anyone who leaves children hungry during a pandemic and can give billions of pounds to their mates on WhatsApp, I think that was pretty scummy,” she told Sky News.
Starmer told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that “Angela and I take different approaches, and that’s not language that I would use”.
Rayner was defended by John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor, who suggested she should not have used the language she did, but that “deep down, she’s expressing the anger many of us feel”. “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,” he said.
Oliver Dowden, the Tory co-chairman, 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.”
James Cleverly, a Foreign Office minister, claimed voters would see a Tory party that has had two female prime ministers and the “most diverse government” and “they’ll know she’s talking crap”.
However, the complaints about Rayner’s language were undermined by remarks from a Tory MP who suggested that a bomb should be planted in the office of Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party chair.
James Gray, a veteran Conservative for North Wiltshire, said he meant “no offence” with the comment that he posted in a WhatsApp group before the opposition’s conference in Brighton, which is the scene of an IRA bomb that targeted Conservative conference in 1984.
In the exchange, first reported by the Mail on Sunday, the Tory MP Robert Largan asked: “Does anybody know where Anneliese Dodds’ Commons office is based? I need to deliver something to her office.” Gray replied: “A bomb, perhaps?” He later apologised for what he said had been a “foolish remark”.
Dodds said it raised concerns about safety for politicians. “I would say that the broader issue of safety for everyone in politics is very important,” she said. “I think all parliamentarians should be committed to ensuring that everyone can be involved in public life without any fear of intimidation or violence.”