Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner was rebuked by Sir Keir Starmer on Sunday after she described senior Tories as “scum”.
She made the controversial remarks during a fringe event at around 9.15pm on Saturday, the opening day of the party’s five-day conference in Brighton.
“We cannot get any worse than a bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, mysoginistic, absolute pile … of banana republic… Etonian… piece of scum,” she told activists, according to the Daily Mirror.
Sir Keir Starmer sought to distance himself from her intervention, which appeared to refer to Boris Johnson and his Conservative Government.
The Labour leader said he and his deputy “take different approaches”, telling the BBC: “That’s not the language that I would use.”
He said he would speak to her about the episode, but insisted it was a matter for her whether she apologised.
Tories condemn ‘appalling’ remarks
Senior Conservatives weighed in to condemn the remarks, branding them “appalling”, as they demanded the deputy Labour leader show contrition for her language.
Some members of the shadow cabinet were also forthright in suggesting she should say sorry. Lucy Powell, shadow housing secretary, said Ms Rayner should “probably” apologise, telling LBC: “Once you realise you’ve caused offence and overstepped the mark, the right thing to do is to be clear about that.”
The deputy Labour leader stood firm, however, and said the remarks were made at a “post-watershed” reception and amounted to a bid to express her “anger and frustration” with the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.
She said she would apologise only if Mr Johnson said sorry for past comments that she described as homophobic, racist and misogynistic.
In the past Mr Johnson has made a series of outspoken comments that have elicited censure, including comparing Muslim women in burqas to “letter boxes” and describing black people as “piccaninnies”. He has said he used such phrases in a satirical sense.
Rayner doubles down
Doubling down on her comments on Sunday, Ms Rayner told Sky News: “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.”
The Ashton-under-Lyne MP said she had simply deployed the “street language” of her northern working-class roots.
Members of the Government reacted with outrage at the remarks. Foreign Office minister James Cleverly accused her of “talking c–p” about the Conservatives, pointing out the party had two female former prime ministers and now boasts the “most diverse” government.
Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party 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.”
He added: “We need to make politics better, not drag it into the gutter. Let’s see if we get an apology.”
Calls for apology
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said Ms Rayner’s verbal attack was “absolutely appalling”, telling Sky News: “There’s no place in public life for that sort of language, that sort of behaviour.”
Pressure grew on Ms Rayner to apologise after long-serving Tory MP James Gray said sorry on Sunday for making a “foolish remark”, after it emerged he had told a WhatsApp group of MPs that a bomb should be planted in Labour chairman Anneliese Dodd’s office.
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell defended Ms Rayner, suggesting 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,” Mr McDonnell told Sky News.
The left-wing MP previously sparked uproar after suggesting former Tory work and pensions secretary Esther McVey should be “lynched” while referring to her as a “b——” at a 2014 comedy night.