‘More women like us and fewer Eton boys could be an excellent factor for the Cabinet’

After Rachel Reeves got her GCSE results, one of the dads at a chess tournament made the mistake of asking how well she did.

“Oh,” he said with surprise as she reeled off her list of top grades. “Girls at Cator Park can get good grades.”

Now she and her younger sibling Ellie, who is Labour’s deputy campaign chief, could be on the verge of becoming the first sisters to sit around the Cabinet table. “People have always underestimated us,” says Rachel, 45. “Underestimated us as girls and underestimated us because we didn’t come from a hugely privileged background.

“I think a few more girls from Cator Park and a few less boys from Eton in the Cabinet would be quite a good thing for our country.”

Rachel and Ellie Reeves visit a shoe factory in Northamptonshire where their grandparents worked

Rachel and Ellie Reeves visit a shoe factory in Northamptonshire where their grandparents worked
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

Asked how they both ended up involved in politics, Rachel says it was their experience at the all-girls comprehensive school in Beckenham, south east London. “Our sixth form was a couple of prefab huts in the playground. Our school library was turned into a classroom because there were more students than space. There were never enough textbooks to go round.”

“For me, a lot of it was about just the lack of aspiration,” says Ellie, who when she suggested to a careers adviser she’d like to study politics at university was told dismissively: “Should we look at something that needs Ds and Es?”

“She knew nothing about me,” says the 43-year-old, who like Rachel went on to study at Oxford. “Absolutely nothing about me. This was purely based on the school that I went to and what people thought of girls that were at our school basically.”

Rachel and Ellie Reeves as children

Rachel and Ellie Reeves grew up in south east London

Rachel and Ellie Reeves as children

The pair went to a local comprehensive school

We meet at Joseph Cheaney & Sons, a shoe factory in Desborough in Northamptonshire, where their grandparents used to work. The sisters used to spend their school holidays with their grandpa and grandma at their council maisonette nearby in Kettering.

“They were a massive influence on Ellie and me,” says Rachel. “They worked incredibly hard. Didn’t have very much, but they gave everything back. They were very involved in their local church, the Salvation Army.”

Who is mostly like to…

… survive on a desert island? Rachel: “I don’t think either of us would be very good at that. I would be terrible. I can cook but I’m not very practically minded. So Ellie.”

… be glued to their phone? Ellie: “Me.” Rachel: “Yeah probably.”

… go on Strictly? Ellie: “Me.”

… get arrested? Rachel: “Ellie! No, neither.”

… open a restaurant? Rachel: “I’m quite a good cook, but I think I’d rather have a bookshop.” Ellie: “Am I going to have the restaurant then?”

When not helping their grandpa on the till in the Salvation Army charity shop where he volunteered, they would visit their long list of great uncles and aunts. “We’d be taken every day to see a relative and they’d give us I don’t know 20p,” explains Ellie.

“Great Aunt Phylis always gave us a pound, that was a really good visit to do. We’d collect these 20 pences and the occasional 50p and pound coin and at the end of the week as a big treat we would be taken into the town centre.

Rachel and Ellie Reeves as young women

Rachel and Ellie Reeves could become the first sisters to ever be in Cabinet together

“There was a toy shop and we could spend our money and I used to blow everything – normally on Sylvanians and things like that.” Turning to Rachel, she adds: “And you would always buy something and save the rest.”

“Too right,” the Shadow Chancellor replies. “So the moral of the story is Rachel would be really good at running the nation’s finances,” she adds, banging the desk jokingly as she roars with laughter. “You can write that down.”

Rachel, who became an MP in 2010 before her sister joined her in the Commons seven years later, says it is “really nice” to have Ellie in Parliament. “We have always been really good friends and supportive of each other,” she says.

The Mirror's John Stevens with Rachel and Ellie Reeves at a shoe factory in Kettering

The Mirror’s John Stevens with Rachel and Ellie Reeves at a shoe factory near Kettering
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

“Politics can be quite a lonely business, you’ve got your own constituency, you’ve got your own staff. Often at PMQs, I’ll walk in and see Ellie and say shall we have lunch afterwards.”

During the election campaign, the two frontbenchers have been taking on the Tories as the parties trade blows on tax.

“I’m more than happy to have an argument about who’s the high tax party,” says Rachel in the face of relentless attacks from Rishi Sunak. “It’s the Tories, because they’ve failed to grow the economy. And so they keep having to pick the pockets of ordinary working people to fund public services . Rishi Sunak put up National Insurance, we voted against it and we said it was wrong to increase taxes on working people in a cost of living crisis.

“I’ve been very clear I will not increase income tax, National Insurance or VAT for the duration of the next parliament because I understand the challenges that working families are facing. I want taxes on working people to be lower.”