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28 September 2021

What Andy McDonald’s resignation means for Keir Starmer’s leadership

Relations between Starmer and his left flank are entering a new and more hostile phase.

By Stephen Bush

Andy McDonald has resigned from the shadow cabinet, citing disagreements over policy. 

How will this affect the Labour conference and Keir Starmer’s hopes for it? Not much. This morning’s papers and the news breaks on the radio are a reminder that Starmer has both a bigger enemy and a bigger opportunity: the shortage of HGV drivers.

It is the shortages, not Labour infighting, that are crowding out Labour’s conference, for good and for ill. That means that the wrangling over rule-changes and the internal divisions have been overlooked, but it also means that even if the Labour leader gives the speech of his life on Wednesday, that will probably go unnoticed as well. 

How will Andy McDonald’s exit affect Starmer’s Labour Party? Considerably more. It means that relations between Starmer and his left flank are entering a new and more hostile phase.

But an unnoticed subplot of McDonald’s resignation is that it is a surprising attack not only on Starmer but on Angela Rayner, who was, along with McDonald, the architect of many of Labour’s labour market policies, and who is credited with trying to save his job during the May reshuffle. 

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The biggest consequence of the rule-changes passed at this conference is that the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs (the organising caucus of Corbynites) cannot mount their own leadership campaign. They either need a candidate who can pull support from outside the group, or to support a candidate from outside – such as Angela Rayner. 

While for some in the Campaign Group a potential Rayner leadership is seen as an upgrade, for others, it would just be the same problem with a different face. And for others still, who believe Rayner is a more competent operator than Starmer, it would be the same problem with a more impressive opponent – the worst of all possible outcomes. 

And that speaks to the biggest problem for Starmer’s left-wing critics: they know that they don’t like the present leadership. It is, for the moment, unclear how they can secure one that is more congenial to them.

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