Until yesterday evening.
Starmer had told that he took full responsibility for the election results. But after the BBC reported “Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is to carry out a reshuffle of his frontbench team later following the party's poor performance in English local elections … He is facing criticism following defeat in the Hartlepool by-election and losing control of several councils” it added “[he] has already sacked his deputy Angela Rayner as Labour's chair and campaigns co-ordinator”. Took full responsibility by dumping on Ms Rayner.
Reconnecting with the North and working class people by sacking, er, a working class woman from the North. A woman who, it seems, played no part in the apparently arbitrary candidate selection for Hartlepool, which, it has been claimed, was down mainly to Jenny Chapman, who lost Darlington in 2019, but is a close aide to Starmer.
It soon became clear that this was a move which would unite all wings of the party, but not necessarily in the way Starmer may have wanted - because they would unify against him. Interestingly, Tom Harwood, formerly replacement teaboy to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog, made the killer comment, but maybe without realising what it meant: “an overly hasty night of the long knives”.
In UK politics, that describes the cabinet reshuffle by Harold Macmillan in July 1962 in which seven cabinet ministers, including then Chancellor Selwyn Lloyd, were sacked. The extent of the reshuffle was probably unnecessary, and just over a year later, Macmillan, who had won a majority of 100 in 1959, was out. A year after that, so were the Tories.
A Night Of The Long Knives refers to a reshuffle that is ultimately proved counterproductive and, indeed, pointless. So reaction to Starmer’s action was predictable.
Lewis Goodall of BBC Newsnight claimed “Labour MPs are completely gobsmacked tonight”. And not just MPs: Andy Burnham, re-elected in a landslide as Mayor of Greater Manchester, said simply “I can’t support this”. Labour List editor Sienna Rogers quoted an NEC source telling “Well looks like LOTO may be dicing with their NEC majority then”.
Jessica Elgot of the Guardian added “One Labour source says grid meeting at the start of the campaign didn’t include anything for Angela Rayner to do. No media, no announcements” and Adam Bienkov of Business Insider noted “asked yesterday what his response would be to these election results, Keir Starmer said that his top priority was ‘stopping as a party quarrelling among ourselves’”. Or maybe not.
And with Anneliese Dodds, Cat Smith, Andy McDonald and Lisa Nandy quoted as being next for the chop - the news possibly leaked before they were told - it will only get worse. The time of Keir Starmer’s leadership was for a time, but not for all time.
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