The local election results are not over yet but the recriminations in Labour over the party’s bad results are already well under way. Following the party’s loss in Hartlepool as well as losses in various red wall councils, Keir Starmer has started to rearrange his top team. This afternoon the Labour leader made the bold decision to sack Angela Rayner as party chair and campaign coordinator. Rayner remains the party’s deputy leader – a role that was decided by the membership and Starmer cannot remove from her.
So, what’s going on? When the news broke, it was met with disbelief by MPs on both the left and right of the party. It’s a decision that appears to have unified the Labour party – but not in the way Starmer may have hoped. Given Labour sources suggest Starmer was disappointed in Rayner’s efforts on the local elections campaign, critics of Starmer now accuse him of scapegoating by placing blame on his deputy. Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell is among those to criticise the decision while several female Labour MPs are questioning the wisdom of sacking a northern woman following defeats in the north.
The reaction is so furious that Labour sources have come out to insist Rayner will still play an important role and could be given a new role – it’s just that campaigns will be conducted differently. However, at best this suggests naivety on Team Starmer’s part – if Starmer had wished to avoid a row, he surely could have simply offered Rayner a new role when they spoke this afternoon. Rayner’s demotion is expected to be the first of several big changes – with Lisa Nandy rumoured to be the next on Starmer’s list for a change in role.