A fresh row between Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner erupted after the Labour leader launched a reshuffle while his deputy was making a major speech on Tory corruption.
The deputy leader told an audience at an Institute for Government (IfG) event that she did not “know the details” of the shadow cabinet reshuffle that was taking place because she was “concentrating on the job at hand”.
Speculation that the reshuffle was underway began on social media after the Times reported that key figures such as shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow education secretary Kate Green and shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens all faced the sack.
Instead of taking questions on the Labour party’s attempts to clean up politics, Rayner fielded multiple questions on whether she was consulted about the reshuffle and whether she thought it was the right time.
She replied: “I don’t know the details of any reshuffle, I’ve been concentrating on the job at hand.”
In an interview with Times Radio after the event, she said she had not been consulted on the reshuffle and that there was no “focus on that at the moment”.
Asked whether she would have expected to hear about it first, she replied: “I reckon that Keir would tell me first, yeah.”
However, it is understood Rayner met with Starmer after her media round in the morning and before she went to the IfG event.
In response, Rayner’s spokesperson said: “My understanding is that Keir and Angela had a short conversation in between her media round and her speech.
“She was not aware of the details of the reshuffle and she was not consulted on the reshuffle as she said herself.”
The timing and handling of the reshuffle risks reigniting the fury that erupted in the fallout of the Hartlepool by-election, in which Starmer sacked Rayner as party chair before reinstating her to other posts.
While Rayner was still speaking at the IfG event, a tit-for-tat broke out between the leadership’s two teams.
Sources close to Rayner expressed anger at Starmer’s team for its tactics and timing, with one calling it “plain offensive”.
One ally told HuffPost UK: “The incompetence is shocking. Why do this while she’s on her speech giving a planned intervention on a key Labour attack line? It makes absolutely no sense.”
A friend of Rayner said: “Trying to sack Angela and make her the scapegoat for Hartlepool was stupid. But doing a reshuffle when she’s literally on her feet giving a speech attacking the Tories for being corrupt is just plain offensive.”
And a spokesman for Rayner added: “Angela is focusing on attacking the Tories for being corrupt and setting out how she will stamp out corruption. That is her priority.”
But a source close to Starmer said it was “interesting that the wording from this friend of Angela and her spokesman is virtually identical”.
Another Labour source further questioned Rayner’s assertion that she wasn’t consulted on the reshuffle, claiming: “She’s been pushing it for months. She’s desperately trying to confect a row.”
Rayner’s spokesperson said it was was “categorically untrue that Angela was pushing for a reshuffle. She has just given a speech setting out her plans to tackle Tory corruption.”
Labour figures that are tipped for a promotion include Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee, Wes Streeting, the shadow secretary of state for child poverty, and shadow schools minister Peter Kyle.
Liz Kendall, shadow minister for social care, and Alison McGoven, shadow minister for cultural industries and sports, may also get a spot on the frontbench.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.