Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will carry out a reshuffle of his shadow cabinet team on Sunday, the PA news agency understands, as the fallout over the party’s dismal election performance continues.
Sir Keir has come under fire after opting to sack his deputy Angela Rayner from her role as party chairman and national campaign co-ordinator on Saturday, with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham warning him that it was “wrong”.
But the Opposition leader will look to reshape his top team further across the weekend as he looks to reverse the party’s downward spiral in England.
As well as undertaking a reshuffle, the former director of public prosecutions has also hired Gordon Brown’s former chief pollster Deborah Mattinson – who has written a book about why Labour lost the so-called “red wall” at the 2019 general election – as director of strategy.
It comes after Labour received a drubbing in some parts of the country, 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 North East constituency has gone blue since its inception in the 1970s.
The sacking of Ms Rayner signals cracks at the top of the party, with rows over who was to blame for the election strategy that saw losses in former industrial areas that have traditionally supported Labour.
The party lost control of Durham council for the first time in a century, saw its leader deposed by the Greens in Sheffield and also witnessed heavy defeats in Rotherham and Sunderland at local authority level.
Although Labour sources on Saturday evening were keen to stress that Ms Rayner – a former social care worker who hails from Stockport in the North West – would “continue to play a senior role” in Sir Keir’s team, prominent figures in the party have spoken out against the decision to remove her as chairman.
Mr Burnham – tipped as a potential successor to Sir Keir after winning a thumping majority to secure a second term as Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester – tweeted: “I can’t support this.
“This is straightforwardly wrong if it’s true.”
Members of former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s team, who come from the left of the party, were among those to criticise the move to “scapegoat” the deputy leader.
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott called it “baffling” while John McDonnell labelled it a “huge mistake”.
Mr McDonnell, a former shadow chancellor, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “When the leader of the party on Friday said he takes responsibility for the election result in Hartlepool in particular and then scapegoats Angela Rayner, I think many of us feel that is unfair, particularly as we all know actually that Keir’s style of leadership is that his office controls everything.
“It is very centralised and he controlled the campaign.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said it was his “understanding” that Ms Rayner would “take a different position in the shadow cabinet”.
Mr Sarwar said Labour would have to “collectively pull … together” to put the party back on track for power, adding: “I don’t think you can scapegoat anybody, I don’t think anyone is saying one person is to blame.”
Corbyn ally Ms Abbott used her interview with Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday to call for Sir Keir to return to the “popular” policies in the 2019 manifesto, despite it helping to bring about Labour’s worst general election defeat since 1935.