Keir Starmer handed his deputy, Angela Rayner, a major promotion on Sunday night after a day of tense negotiations and power battles. He also sacked his shadow chancellor and promoted his close ally, Rachel Reeves, to the role in a move that could further ignite tensions with the party’s left.
Starmer’s shadow cabinet reshuffle was derailed by a prolonged standoff with Rayner, who was locked in talks with the party leader’s team for hours on Sunday. It came after leaked plans to sack her as party chair and national campaign coordinator sparked an uproar.
The Guardian understands that Starmer initially offered Rayner a frontbench role covering the welfare case, but she saw this as a significant demotion and was determined to maintain her influence over internal Labor politics and politics.
Rayner emerged with a significantly strengthened role, entrusted the role of shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to Michael Gove, as well as a newly created post as shadow secretary for the future of work. She will also retain joint control over party affairs as deputy leader.
Rayner’s move as party chairman had been planned as the first in a larger reshuffle following a series of disappointing results for Labor in Thursday’s local election. But news of further changes was delayed throughout the day as Starmer’s team tried to appease their furious deputy, who is widely seen as a potential future challenger.
Although she lost her role as party chair, Rayner’s allies said she would retain important ultimate control over party affairs. Anneliese Dodds, the former shadow chancellor, will exercise joint control and chair Labor’s policy review.
“Keir’s office failed to articulate a vision or define what the Labor Party stood for, and then they tried to blame Angela for the local election,” a Rayner ally said. “It will be much more visible in fighting the conservatives against corruption, leading the fight on the future of our economy and jobs. Keir can’t communicate with the people on the red seats on the wall like she does.
Following the announcement of his new role on Sunday night, Rayner tweeted: “I will work tirelessly to reform our party and come up with a political platform that will allow us to reconnect with the voters we need to win, especially in our traditional hearts, and show that the Labor Party speaks for the working class. This is our founding mission. But she added: “I want to thank friends across Labor and our movement who have been in contact with me. United we stand divided we fall. The past, we inherit the future that we are building. Solidarity. “
Party sources said there was hardly any concealed fury against Rayner that the row dominated 24 hours of much more promising results for Labor, including in Wales and mayoral victories in the west of England, Cambridge and Peterborough and West Yorkshire.
“We could have spent the last day celebrating the much better results for the Labor Party in Wales and elsewhere if the people of Angela had not decided to try to blow up the party to find out who runs which quarters in the Labor headquarters, ”a source said. “The obsession with internal power games must end. “
Starmer also sacked Chief Whip Nick Brown, a veteran of the Brown and Corbyn years. The two Dodds, who served on John McDonnell’s shadow treasury team, and Brown were seen as key appointments from the party’s soft left and the promotion of Reeves, seen as the shadow cabinet’s closest ally. of Starmer, places the center of the party in the ascendant.
Few other changes were made, despite briefings that Starmer wanted to sack shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy, a briefing his team expressly denied.
Alan Campbell will replace Brown as Chief Whip and Thangam Debbonaire will become Phantom Chief of the Commons. Other promotions include Wes Streeting, another key figure in the center of the party, who is moving on a new shadow cabinet dossier on child poverty. Lucy Powell, a key figure in the Ed Miliband years, will be the Shadow Housing Secretary.
Starmer said the party will refocus on the bold ideas and priorities of the British people. “Labor must be the party that embraces the demand for change across our country,” he said. “Just as the pandemic has changed what is possible and what is needed, Labor must change too.”
The row between Labor’s two most important figures overshadowed more positive election results for the party over the weekend, including a resounding victory in Wales.
Rayner has her own Labor power base as she was elected directly to the post of Deputy Leader, which she will retain in any event.
Senior Labor sources confirmed on Saturday evening that he had been asked to step down from his electoral role, as the party upset its approach to campaigns in light of losses in Thursday’s by-elections in Hartlepool and in the English councils.
But on Sunday morning, after figures such as Andy Burnham signaled their disagreement, the message had shifted and Starmer loyalist Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish secretary, claimed Rayner had been offered a bigger role.
“Angela Rayner was not sacked, as I understand it Angela Rayner has been offered a significant promotion, to take her from the Labor Party back office in the midst of an election, to the front office where she speaks at the country, ”he told Sophy Ridge on Sky News. He added: “Keir Starmer has decided to proceed with a reshuffle of his outpost to respond to these election results.”
Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: “What PR genius thought it was a good move the day we had success?” Stressing that he did not “remember” Rayner, having supported Rebecca Long-Bailey as deputy chief, he called the decision to try to sideline her “unfair”.
Starmer also hired former Gordon Brown advisor and veteran pollster Deborah Mattinson to oversee Labor’s strategy.
Several MPs suggested on Sunday that Starmer’s botched attempt to sideline Rayner increased his chances of facing a leadership challenge in the months to come.
Members of the left-wing campaign group of MPs, who are most skeptical of Starmer’s leadership, fall short of the 40 Labor MPs whose signatures would be required to start a race.
But Rayner’s treatment has prompted questions about Starmer’s leadership among some of his former supporters, while the extent of the swing against Labor at Hartlepool has alarmed narrow-majority MPs. “His moral authority is demolished,” said a deputy from the soft left.
Former left-wing shadow cabinet minister Jon Trickett told The Guardian on Sunday: “I think he is untrustworthy. If it is the question of whether there should be a leadership challenge, I don’t think we should rule it out.
Labor MPs will closely follow the by-elections to Batley and Spen, triggered by MP Tracy Brabin’s victory as mayor of West Yorkshire and the resignation of parliament, creating a vacant post. Unlike Hartlepool, Batley and Spen did not see a meaningful Brexit party vote. If it were lost to the Conservatives, it would risk causing panic within the Parliamentary Labor Party.