Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has been sacked from her role as chairman and national campaign coordinator after the party’s poor showing in the Super Thursday elections.
Labour received a drubbing in the local elections, losing control of a host of councils and suffering defeat at the hands of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the Hartlepool by-election – the first time the constituency has gone blue since its inception in the 1970s.
The sacking signals cracks at the top of the party, with rows over who was to blame for the election strategy.
Speaking on Friday, leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was “bitterly disappointed” with the results and vowed to take responsibility and to fix Labour’s election woes.
Ms Rayner’s status as deputy Labour leader is safe as that is a directly-elected post.
Labour sources told The Times that Sir Keir sacked Ms Rayner in person earlier on Saturday.
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the decision to remove Ms Rayner was a “cowardly avoidance of responsibility”.
The senior party figure tweeted: “Keir Starmer said yesterday that he took full responsibility for the election result in Hartlepool and other losses.
“Instead today he’s scapegoating everyone apart from himself.
“This isn’t leadership, it’s a cowardly avoidance of responsibility.”
As well as the shock defeat in Hartlepool, Labour had a net loss of six councils and more than 200 seats in the local elections, losing control of the likes of Harrow, Essex, and Plymouth local authorities in the process.
The party also failed to topple Tory mayoral incumbents in the Tees Valley and the West Midlands, although did produce a surprise victory in the West of England mayoral contest and comfortable wins in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region.
Richard Burgon MP, former shadow justice secretary and prominent left-wing critic, has called for a bespoke party conference to produce a plan to reverse Labour’s polling fortunes in the aftermath of the losses.
“Instead of making progress in the key areas we need to win back, at these elections we’ve gone backwards – this can’t go on,” he tweeted.
“There should now be a special Labour Party conference where the leadership outlines its plan to turn this around and seeks the confidence of the party for it.”
Ms Rayner’s sacking could spark a civil war as she holds a lot of respect on the party’s left.
The public fallout is a far cry from when Ms Rayner suggested she was Bridget Jones to Sir Keir’s Mr Darcy at public events.
A Labour source told Sky News: “Keir said he was taking full responsibility for the result of the elections - and he said we need to change. That means change how we run our campaigns in the future. Angela will continue to play a senior role in Keir’s team.”
Gaya Sriskanthan, Momentum co-chair, called the move, “blatant scapegoating,” saying of Sir Keir: “It is his failed strategy that has brought us to this point, and he said he would take responsibility. Yet again he has gone back on his word.”
On Friday the Conservatives won Hartlepool with a majority of 6,940 votes.
Mr McDonnell said the party had gone into the by-election “almost policy-less” and called for a return to a “real grassroots campaign”.
Sir Keir said that he would set out details of his plan to “reconnect ” the party with voters over the “next few days”.
“This goes way beyond a reshuffle or personalities,” he said.“It’s about focusing the Labour Party on the country and making sure that we close the gap between the Labour Party and working people.”
“We have changed as a party but we haven’t set out a strong enough case to the country.
“Very often we have been talking to ourselves instead of to the country and we have lost the trust of working people, particularly in places like Hartlepool.
“I intend to do whatever is necessary to fix that.”