Thursday briefing: What’s behind the allegations against Angela Rayner? And does anyone really care?

<span>Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner speaks at the opening of Labour party conference in Liverpool.</span><span>Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian</span>
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner speaks at the opening of Labour party conference in Liverpool.Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

Good morning.

You probably haven’t missed the accusations being thrown at Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner. They are a “smear” according to Keir Starmer, and a national scandal according to the Daily Mail. So which is it?

The allegation facing Rayner is that she owes capital gains tax (CGT) on the 2015 sale of her former council house and has broken electoral law. As scandals go it’s not the most salacious. Rayner has said the home in question was her primary residence at the time, so she did not need to pay CGT – and with that the confusing questions probing into Rayner’s personal life and her living arrangements over the last decade begin.

In short: Rayner bought a council house in 2007 under Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy scheme. She was registered on the electoral roll as living at that home in Stockport. Eight years later, she reportedly made a £48,500 profit in the sale of that home. As she was registered to the property, she would not have had to pay any capital gains tax on the profit.

So what’s the problem? In 2010, Rayner re-registered the birth of her two sons with two addresses, hers and her then-husband Mark Rayner, who lived about a mile away, according to reports. The question being hurled at Rayner by Conservative politicians and an excitable rightwing press: which was her true main residence?

Rayner is now being investigated by Greater Manchester police. The Labour party has defended its deputy leader, and she has denied the allegations, saying that she will step down if she is convicted of a criminal offence. “The British public deserves politicians who know the rules apply to them,” Rayner said.

To untangle this web of a story, I spoke with Guardian political correspondent Aletha Adu and media editor Jim Waterson. That’s right after the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Middle East crisis | Israel has reportedly deployed extra artillery and armoured personnel carriers to the Gaza Strip periphery, suggesting that the military is preparing for its long-threatened ground offensive on Rafah, the only place of relative safety for at least 1.4 million displaced Palestinian civilians.

  2. Police | Only four out of 10 people in England say they trust the police, with the UK’s biggest force, the Metropolitan police, getting the lowest confidence score, research has found.

  3. Health | Drug shortages are a “new normal” in the UK and are being exacerbated by Brexit, a report by the Nuffield Trust health thinktank has warned. A dramatic recent spike in the number of drugs that are unavailable has created serious problems for doctors, pharmacists, the NHS and patients, it found.

  4. Housing | Unwanted home moves cost renters over half a billion pounds a year, with tenants coughing up an average of £669 every time they are forced by landlords to leave their home, a survey has revealed.

  5. Transport | Compensation paid to passengers for train delays in Britain has reached record levels, with annual payouts surpassing £100m and the number of claims for delayed or cancelled trains continuing to grow.

In depth: ‘Rayner threatening to resign puts pressure on the police to come to a conclusion’

The questions around Rayner and her tax issues have been slowly simmering away for a few months. The allegations were initially made in an unauthorised biography by former Conservative deputy chair Lord Ashcroft and then serialised by the Mail on Sunday in February. At that point, there were minor implications that Rayner could have breached electoral law. The police said there was no evidence of any offence being committed.

The story only started to pick up steam when Tory MP James Daly informed Greater Manchester police that relevant witnesses or documents had not been considered and urged them to look back at the case.

After reviewing the information, the police decided to reopen the case last week – but it’s not clear what the police are actually investigating. When it comes to the tax issues, there is a six-year time limit on prosecution (which in this case ended in 2021). If it’s about electoral law, that would had to be done within 12 months of an offence. “Police sources have said they are investigating other tax issues,” says Aletha, “like whether she claimed a single person’s council tax discount on her property, which seems to be based on evidence from neighbours that told the press, while allowing her brother to live at her council house property.”

The length of this investigation is going to be significant because local elections are coming up and Rayner, as one of Labour’s most popular and recognisable politicians, needs to be campaigning without a tax scandal hanging over her. “It’s clear that if the Conservatives lose big at the local elections, which polls suggest they will, those politicians who will be trying to defend their records will use every single opportunity to highlight this alleged breach of trust by Rayner to distract from their losses,” Aletha adds.


A media scandal

The Conservatives and right-leaning media outlets have been unrelenting in their criticism of Rayner’s alleged missteps. The defence secretary, Grant Shapps, accused her of “double standards’’ – as someone who has repeatedly called out indiscretions by Tories, Rayner is open to accusations of hypocrisy.

Jim, the Guardian’s media editor, says that the whole palaver shows that “the police will act based on news stories if they are under pressure” and “Rayner threatening to resign in turn puts pressure on the police to come to a conclusion fast”.

The unclear nature of the allegations and the fact that they have dripped through slowly over the course of two months has meant that it has not quite landed with the public. “With news audiences declining, the real power for reaching the mass public is whether the BBC picks this up and runs with it or whether they just leave it as something the Mail is pushing,” Jim adds.


Are people paying attention?

“This apparent scandal, on its face, has been very hard to digest for the average person because it’s all quite murky and the story itself is about 14 years old,” Aletha says. Rayner is popular, a large part of which is because her path to politics has been different to many of her peers in Westminster: the former carer left school at 16 pregnant with no qualifications, and her straightforward style of speaking and clarity has been described as “refreshing” by voters. “The amount of support she has is incredible. She has her own mandate and huge networks in places Keir Starmer doesn’t,” Aletha adds. So the attacks, so far, have been viewed by some as unfair: “People are seemingly responding to the story by saying ‘So what... and?’,” Aletha says.

A “tax protest” led by “activists” according to some supportive papers turned out to be local Conservative councillors, according to the Byline Times, casting further doubt on the degree to which this is cutting through to the public.


What’s next?

The police will continue its investigation, which could conclude relatively swiftly as they have reportedly thrown at least a dozen officers on the case. The Labour party continues to be confident that they will not find anything incriminating, with Starmer accusing “a billionaire prime minister and a billionaire peer, both of whose families have used schemes to avoid millions of pounds of tax” of “smearing a working-class woman” – though it should be noted that he has refused to look at Rayner’s tax advice himself.

What’s sure is that the speculation will rumble on, with many more Daily Mail front pages still to come.

What else we’ve been reading

  • The only thing more entertaining than Liz Truss’s interviews to promote her new book? Stuart Jeffries’s review: “Truss tells us she was known in her first ministerial appointment as the human hand grenade. Which, with her typical inability to read any given room, she takes as a compliment.” Toby Moses, head of newsletters

  • Ahmed Moor explains why, as a Palestinian American, he can no longer vote for Joe Biden: “I am no longer able to rationalise support for this administration; the president’s moral failure in Gaza has taken on historic proportions, like Lyndon Johnson’s in Vietnam before him,” he writes. Nimo

  • Even if you’ve never heard of Henry Winter, Jonathan Liew’s take on what his exit from the Times says about football journalism – and by extension football as a whole – is well worth a read. Toby

  • Elle Hunt is typically insightful in her column. This week she asks a question that is forever on my mind: will we ever break out of the grimly predictable burnout cycle. Nimo

  • Baby Reindeer feels like the first word of mouth hit that Netflix has had in years. Zoe Williams interviews its writer and star, Richard Gadd, about the true-life inspiration for the series. Toby


Football | Joshua Kimmich’s header was the only goal of the second leg but enough to earn Bayern Munich a 3-2 aggregate win over Arsenal to reach the Champions League semi-finals. Real Madrid won in the shootout as Manchester City had two penalties saved after a 1-1 draw on the night made it 4-4 on aggregate.

Tennis | Andy Murray has been included in the entry list for next month’s French Open but Emma Raducanu, fresh from her success in Great Britain’s qualification for the Billie Jean King Cup finals, may yet need a wild card for Roland Garros.

Rugby union | Former Wales captain Ken Owens has announced his retirement from the game after failing to recover from a back problem. The 37-year-old hooker, who also played five Tests for the British and Irish Lions, has been sidelined for almost a year because of the injury, last playing for the Scarlets in April 2023.

The front pages

The Guardian leads this morning with “Brexit blamed as UK drug shortages ‘put lives at risk’”. The Daily Express has “Lords defy will of the people over Rwanda bill … again!” while the Daily Mail says “Tories trail Labour on defence, tax, migration … even Brexit”. “Shameless to the very end” – that’s the Daily Mirror after the Shannon Matthews kidnap “plotter” Michael Donovan died aged 56. “Rayner faces new homes tax questions” says the Telegraph while the Times has “Hopes of rate cut suffer blow”. “Israel will defy plea for restraint and strike Iran, Cameron reveals” reports the i. “Deluged in Dubai” – the Metro leads with the UAE floods. The flooding also provides the front-page picture in the Financial Times, where the splash story is “IMF debt warning raises doubts over Sunak’s bid to axe national insurance”.

Today in Focus

Can Rishi Sunak create a smoke-free generation?

MPs voted this week to ban anyone aged 15 or younger in 2024 from buying cigarettes. If the legislation passes and is enacted, it would be a world first. Ben Quinn reports

Cartoon of the day | Ben Jennings

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

From city parks to busy roads, Emerson the 500lb elephant seal has a habit of lumping himself in places he shouldn’t. So for his safety, conservation officials in Victoria, Canada last week relocated him to a remote beach 125 miles away from the city.

But who should reappear, not seven days later, apparently having made the journey back?

Though Emerson had become something of a local celebrity, officials have asked that this time he be left in peace as he undergoes a month-long period of shedding his fur that can be “highly taxing”. After that? He’ll probably be bundled in a van once again in hopes he will settle somewhere more safe.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day. Until tomorrow.