It's been a bruising few days for Keir Starmer. Disappointing results for the party in the north of England in the local elections have been made worse by his botched attempt over the weekend to reshuffle the shadow cabinet.
The Labour leader's hopes for a swift refresh of his frontbench team hit a block in the road when his decision to sack his deputy Angela Rayner as party chairman led to a backlash from his MPs. After much negotiation, Starmer eventually managed to complete his reshuffle late on Sunday night.
Today Starmer attempted to draw a line over recent events. The Labour leader met with his recently refreshed team in parliament to try to reset the news agenda and set out Labour's priorities going forward. However, with the event of the reshuffle fresh in the mind of his MPs, it ought not come as a huge surprise that attendees describe the two-hour long meeting as a rather awkward affair. Those present included the recent demoted Anneliese Dodds – who has moved from shadow chancellor to party chairman – along with Starmer's deputy Angela Rayner, who he sacked on Saturday afternoon before bringing her back in following a backlash from MPs.
Starmer began by insisting that – despite attempting to sack his deputy – he took full responsibility for the election result. He said the party could not escape the seriousness of the Hartlepool result but pointed to the success of Welsh Labour under Mark Drakeford as a result the party could take heart from. Starmer also congratulated the various Labour metro mayors who had found success and praised the Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar for running a 'focussed' campaign.
Rayner took the opportunity to address her colleagues about what they could learn from the result – suggesting that a large part of the Tories' success was down to a vaccine bounce and that would not last for ever. In what appeared to be a swipe at Jeremy Corbyn, Starmer spoke of his plan to spend the summer talking to people who don't vote Labour rather than the party faithful. Ed Miliband made the point that the leadership needed to also make sure it was in close contact with elected Labour politicians.
During the meeting there was – according to one attendee – 'plenty of grandstanding', particularly on the issue of unhelpful briefings to the media. Several figures called for an end to these briefings. However, this was somewhat undermined by the fact that words from the meeting leaked to journalists and appeared on Twitter while the meeting was still going on. This then became a topic of conversation.
After the meeting came to a close, there was an effort by Starmer to project a message of unity. Despite a war of words over the weekend between his team and Rayner's supporters, the pair were all smiles as they embarked on a joint stroll of Portcullis House and were snapped getting coffee together.
While onlookers say the pair were all smiles (and only slightly unnerved by the fact that Nick Brown who Starmer sacked as Chief Whip on Sunday was sat on a nearby table), it is going to take more to convince his own MPs that the relationship is in good shape. The problem for Starmer is that there are now several members of his top team who believe they are only in place because he did not have the authority to sack them. That is not a good place for a party leader to be.