Tensions in the Labour Party have once again exploded on multiple fronts as Sir Keir Starmer launched a reshuffle during his deputy’s major speech on standards in public life.
Angela Rayner appeared to have been blindsided by a shake-up taking place at the same time as she outlined Labour’s plans for an overhaul of the rules and procedures that govern politicians’ behaviour.
Allies of Ms Rayner questioned why Sir Keir had chosen Monday to carry out the changes, just hours after she had insisted the party was focused on holding the Government to account.
The first out of the top team was Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith, who had served as shadow minister for young people and democracy.
Her letter of resignation deepened another rift in the party as she warned Sir Keir about the “damage” Labour was suffering because former leader Jeremy Corbyn is not being readmitted to the party.
Former shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens also confirmed she was being moved to be shadow Welsh secretary.
Meanwhile, it was unclear exactly what Ms Rayner knew about Sir Keir’s plans in advance as she said she had not been aware of the timings of any announcements.
Speaking to Times Radio earlier, Ms Rayner had said she was not aware of any plans for a reshuffle at all.
She said: “I don’t think there’s any focus on that at the moment.”
She added: “We’ve been holding governments to account and that’s what we’re focusing on at the moment, not internal … what job you’ve got.”
Asked whether Sir Keir would have let her know, she said: “I reckon that Keir would tell me first, yeah.”
A spokesperson for Ms Rayner later said the leader and his deputy had spoken between her morning round of media interviews and her speech at the Institute for Government (IfG).
While the reshuffle was discussed, Ms Rayner did not know the details, the spokesperson said.
Ms Rayner said after her speech she had not been aware of “the timing of it”, adding that everything the Labour Party should be doing was focusing on getting into power.
She said: “I don’t know the details of the reshuffle or the timing of it, I’ve been here concentrating on my role now, but six months ago I said again we need some consistency in how we’re approaching things as an opposition.”
Her spokesperson said: “She was not aware of the details of the reshuffle and she was not consulted on the reshuffle.”
Following Ms Rayner’s speech, a spokesperson for Sir Keir confirmed a reshuffle was under way.
The saga will prompt fresh fears over the relationship between Sir Keir and Ms Rayner.
The pair were locked in a stand-off during Sir Keir’s last reshuffle in May, where Ms Rayner felt she was being scapegoated for the party’s disastrous Hartlepool by-election result and Sir Keir was reported to have wanted to move her to another role.
However, Ms Rayner flatly refused and picked up a number of new titles instead.
A row over internal reforms during the Labour Party conference in September also overshadowed Ms Rayner’s appearance on the event’s main stage.
It’s been an honour to serve on the Labour front bench since 2015 but I’m looking forward to spending even more time at home here in Lancashire and standing up for my constituents. pic.twitter.com/8pybEql5WB
— Cat Smith MP (@CatSmithMP) November 29, 2021
Meanwhile, Sir Keir also faced hostility from the left of the party.
In her resignation letter, Ms Smith wrote: “You will be aware that we had a meeting scheduled for later this week, during which I wanted to raise the issue of, and my concerns about, Jeremy not being readmitted to the Parliamentary Labour Party after he was readmitted into our party membership following due process.
“This position is utterly unsustainable and it is important that you truly understand how much damage this is causing in constituency Labour Parties and amongst ordinary members, a number of whom are no longer campaigning.”