Isabel Hardman

All quiet on the Labour front: Starmer’s delayed reshuffle

All quiet on the Labour front: Starmer's delayed reshuffle
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After a day of furious briefings between factions, the Labour Party has fallen mysteriously – and ominously – quiet. Shadow cabinet members I’ve spoken to are none the wiser. They are waiting by their phones to hear the latest moves in a reshuffle that was expected to begin at some point today but which has only managed to achieve one thing so far: an almighty and very ugly row about the sacking of Angela Rayner. And that was 24 hours ago.

I understand that there should still be something later this evening, but the main problem facing Starmer is that he is trying to move Rayner from party chair and also get a new chief whip, replacing the very long-in-the-tooth Nick Brown. It’s a brave move, given whips are an important stabilising influence in a reshuffle, and given the party’s deputy leader will always have their own power base. Doing both at once is quite bold, to put it mildly.

Rayner’s reaction to the news last night that she was being moved sparked the angry briefing war. Starmer had not planned to announce that she had been ‘sacked’: indeed, he wanted to move her to another role which she saw as a demotion and a vote of no confidence in her work on the elections. The leader of the opposition’s team was unprepared for the leaking of these discussions, and both sides very quickly got very personal in a flurry of late night messages.

The briefings quickly sucked other frontbenchers in. Allies of Starmer insist that there was no suggestion from their side that Lisa Nandy was for the chop. There are suspicions that opponents of the Labour leader may have put this line around to hurt Nandy and destabilise Starmer further. One reason for the delay is that Rayner has demanded the sacking of a number of staffers in the Leader of the Opposition’s office who she suspects have been hostile towards her, which Starmer has so far refused.

But even the furious reaction on both sides cannot really be used as an excuse for the bizarre and lengthy pause since that initial meeting with Rayner. When I interviewed him on Times Radio today, Ian Murray, who was given the unenviable task of going out to bat for his leader, conceded that the communications of the reshuffle had been a mess and that they have distracted attention from some of the better results that the party was celebrating last night.

Even if Starmer does get his way with the moves he wants, the way this reshuffle has started means he has even more to recover from than just poor election results. There are now figures on the soft left who are genuinely on the warpath with a leader who has put a great deal of effort into trying to hold things together, often at the cost of saying anything interesting.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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