Batley and Spen goes to the polls today for a key Westminster by-election that could rock Keir Starmer’s leadership if Labour is defeated. The party is braced for a rocky few days, and speculation about a leadership challenge has begun before the results are even in.
The Times reports this morning that MPs who back Angela Rayner have been canvassing support for the deputy leader among colleagues and trade unions in preparation for a challenge if Labour loses. (Rayner is “entirely focused on her jobs”, her spokesman insists.) This follows a report at the weekend that Dawn Butler was considering a challenge, which she denies. It also comes as polling by Sky News/YouGov reveals that 69 per cent of Labour members think that Andy Burnham would be a better leader than Starmer. By remarkable coincidence, Burnham is on the front cover of this week’s New Statesman, telling Stephen Bush that he “would be prepared to go back” to Westminster.
But the average Labour MP still doesn’t expect a formal challenge against Starmer if the party loses, despite the many rumblings otherwise. Even many of those who were enraged by Starmer’s attempt to sack Rayner after Hartlepool, and who would maybe back her eventually, don’t think that this is the right time and don’t expect her to go for it at this point. But the left of the party is angry, the centre and right are angsty, and it only takes nominations from 40 MPs to get on the ballot.
It is going to be a very interesting 48 hours.