24 hours after saying he took ‘full responsibility’, Starmer sacks deputy from key role


Keir Starmer was accused of making his deputy Angela Rayner the scapegoat for Labour’s election meltdown last night, after he sacked her as party chairman and campaign co-ordinator.

In a desperate bid to bolster his authority, the Labour leader – who only 24 hours earlier said he took ‘full responsibility’ for the disastrous election results – removed Ms Rayner from the key roles.

Labour last night said Ms Rayner, who remains the party’s directly elected deputy leader, would ‘continue to play a senior role in Keir’s team’.

But in a sign she was taking the blame for last week’s results, a party source said Labour had to ‘change how we run our campaigns in the future’.

Ms Rayner declined to comment last night, but her departure sparked immediate claims that the Labour leader was making her a scapegoat. Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said her sacking was a ‘cowardly avoidance of responsibility’, adding: ‘He’s scapegoating everyone apart from himself.’

The sacking came shortly after Ms Rayner’s allies told The Mail on Sunday that it was unfair to blame her for either the Hartlepool by-election loss to the Tories or the wider election disaster, claiming: ‘Everyone knows that Keir’s office controls everything.’

But other MPs said Ms Rayner should lose her posts for failing to stem the Tory tide.

Last night, there were reports that Ms Rayner would be only the first to go in a radical reshuffle of Labour’s front bench – with claims that Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy would also be sacked, although there were also suggestions she would be moved to a different job. Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas- Symonds, Chief Whip Nick Brown and employment rights spokesman Andy McDonald were also rumoured to be leaving the frontbench or moving to new posts. 

The dramatic turn of events came as:

  • Labour suffered another humiliating defeat yesterday by failing to oust West Midlands Tory mayor Andy Street;
  • Andy Burnham underlined his credentials as an eventual Labour leader by winning the Greater Manchester mayoral race;
  • Ex-Labour Cabinet Minister John Denham said the party under Sir Keir could be finished as ‘national political force’ because it ‘seems to have ‘turned its back on England and Englishness’;
  • MPs confirmed that Yvette Cooper was being lined up as a ‘compromise’ candidate to replace the Labour leader if the party’s fortunes did not improve.

Sir Keir had been expected to shake up his Shadow Cabinet this week by sacking Rayner ally Anneliese Dodds as Shadow Chancellor and bringing back ‘proven heavyweights’ such as Ms Cooper and ex-Environment Secretary Hilary Benn. Sources suggest frontbenchers David Lammy and Wes Streeting are being lined up for promotion.

However, sceptics sniped that after the massive 16 per cent swing to the Tories in the Hartlepool by-election, Remain backer Ms Cooper – who was just 1,276 votes ahead of the Tories in her West Yorkshire seat in 2019 – is one of a dozen of Labour MPs set to lose their seats at the next General Election.

Last week’s catalogue of defeats – symbolised by Tees Valley Tory candidate Ben Houchen winning 73 per cent of the vote in a formerly staunch Labour area – sparked fierce internal recriminations.

The losses continued yesterday after Mr Street defied Labour’s Liam Byrne to hold on to the key prize of West Midlands mayor.

Labour pointed to success in Wales where First Minister Mark Drakeford held on to power. But the overall results sparked a frenzy of questions over how long Sir Keir could hang on as leader – especially if he presides over another defeat in a by-election which will be called in Batley and Spen if sitting Labour MP Tracy Brabin wins the West Yorkshire mayoral race today. 

Sir Keir is unlikely to face an immediate challenge as Left-wing MPs do not have the necessary 40-plus votes under the party’s rules to force a contest while the Right is prepared to give him more time.

Ex-Hartlepool MP Lord Mandelson claimed voters had still not forgiven Labour for Jeremy Corbyn’s Left-wing leadership, while the former leader himself savaged Sir Keir for encouraging people to vote for other parties by ‘offering nothing [and] offering insipid support for the Government’.

The terrible results also reignited tensions between Sir Keir’s office and the camp of deputy leader Ms Rayner, who has reportedly felt ‘blindsided’ by decisions taken by Sir Keir’s team.

The Mail on Sunday was told that the leader’s staff were ‘incandescent’ at Ms Rayner for her ‘botched’ intervention in the selection of candidates in Liverpool in the wake of allegations of corruption in the local party.

Sources close to the leader’s office said MPs briefing against Ms Rayner were not doing so on behalf of Sir Keir.

The terrible results reignited tensions between Sir Keir’s office and the camp of deputy leader Ange' Rayner, who was reportedly ‘blindsided’ by the decisions

The terrible results reignited tensions between Sir Keir’s office and the camp of deputy leader Ange’ Rayner, who was reportedly ‘blindsided’ by the decisions 

But ominously for what was to come, they insisted that as election co-ordinator, she had obviously had a role in the planning for both the elections overall and the Hartlepool contest in particular.

One source said it was ridiculous for anyone to suggest that in election meetings, ‘Angela just sat there mute and let everyone else get on with it’. ‘She is a big figure and she made her presence felt.’

Mr Denham, Local Government Secretary under Gordon Brown, seized on the Hartlepool result as a symbol of the current party’s failure to connect with towns outside the big metropolitan areas.

Mr Denham, now professor of English Identity and Politics at Southampton University, said: ‘Ordinary voters outside the big metropolitan areas don’t feel Labour shares their pride in being English.’

That cost the party so dearly in Hartlepool because it was ‘such an English town’. And Mr Denham questioned the strength of Sir Keir’s patriotism, saying: ‘The Union flag hanging behind Starmer is a soggy Britishness, not English enough for England nor Scottish enough for Scotland’.

Joe Haines: Page 29

Losing Hartlepool, losing England – how Sir Keir Starmer could be leading Labour out of existence

By former Labour Cabinet Minister John Denham

Where Hartlepool leads, England could now follow.

And for Labour, that means not just many more years out of government.

It could mean the end of the party as a national political force.

Why?

Because the party I represented as an MP and as a Minister seems to have turned its back on England and Englishness.

It doesn’t seem to care about England as an entity, as something distinct from Britain as a whole.

Certainly, ordinary voters outside the big metropolitan areas don’t feel Labour shares its pride in being English.

That cost Labour and Sir Keir Starmer so dear in Hartlepool because it is such an English town.

Sir Keir Starmer arrives to his home as counting continues in the local elections

Sir Keir Starmer arrives to his home as counting continues in the local elections

In fact, it is simply one of the most English and least British towns in England.

Labour hung on there in 2019 because a large chunk of English voters backed the Brexit Party.

Of course, the party can say it does care and point to the fact that by-election candidate, Paul Williams spent St George’s Day stuffing English flags and leaflets through Hartlepool voters letter boxes.

But that trite tactic misunderstands what Englishness means.

For those voters, it’s not really about the St George’s Cross , let alone morris dancing or parish churches.

These English voters don’t say ‘I’m voting X because I’m English’.

They know they are English and don’t need to say so.

But they do want political parties that will stand up for England’s interests – not just in Europe and further afield but crucially, within the UK itself.

They want to defend England’s interests within the Union and they usually think devolution has been good for Scotland and bad for England/.

Their Englishness carries a deep sense of belonging to their towns and villages.

When they suffer the loss of economic prosperity, a declining sense of community or feel politicians aren’t listening anymore, it really hurts.

Immigration has been more disconcerting to this English sense of belonging than to those living in more diverse and mobile cities.

Wanting politicians to stand up for English interests may mean expecting them to understand all these things.

Our national identities reflect shared values that help explain the way we see the world.

Our sense of being English, or British, or both also shapes how we think about our nation, our national democracy, our sense of belonging to place and community.

It is here that the Conservatives are doing so well.

Now, Boris Johnson actually only rarely says anything about England.

He talks more about the Union.

But he has an Anglo-centric British nationalism that appeals to ordinary voters.

He thinks and talks about the Union as the extension of England’s interests and institutions, ignoring the complaints of the Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish.

This very English attitude alienates voters in the rest of the Union and may well lead to its demise, but it cements a bond with voters who want English interests prioritised.

Of course, Brexit too chimed with the English desire to deepen national democracy and national sovereignty.

The crisis Labour faces is now existential.

There is no law of political science which says that Labour must always be with us.

Yes, it has a comfortable base amongst younger, better educated metropolitan voters, but these are too few to win a general election.

And a Labour Party that cannot win nationally will soon shed votes to the Greens and the Liberal Democrats.

Only the unfairness of First Past the Post stands between Labour and the dire fate of so many European social democratic parties.

To have any chance of governing again, Labour must win back English England.

But first, it has to want to.

Labour doesn’t even talk about England or the English.

Its constitutional commission wants England divided into hated regions.

The party says Brexit is done but shows no understanding why people voted for it.

The English attachment to values of community, solidarity and place are regarded as inherently reactionary.

Labour’s Unionism doesn’t offer the visceral sense of ‘being for the English’ that Johnson provides.

The limp Union flag hanging behind Starmer is a soggy Britishness, not English enough for England, nor Scottish enough for Scotland.

Even this shallow Britishness repels many of Labour’s ‘more British’ members who reject patriotism entirely.

Judging from last week’s council election results, what happened to Labour in Hartlepool last week is spreading across other parts of the North and the Midlands.

Even then, there is nothing inevitable about English support for the Conservatives.

There is an England beneath the surface that is both patriotic and progressive – one that values the traditions and achievements of England and the social progress of recent decades.

This England is confident and ambitious for the future.

If the Labour Party does not have the audacity to summon it into existence, no other party will.

And it doesn’t?

Well, it could simply wither away.

This is the danger now.

In an age of identity politics, Labour lacks that vital ingredient – an identity.

• Former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister John Denham is Professor of English Identity and Politics at Southampton University. 



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