Keir Starmer’s sacking of Angela Rayner has plunged Labour into an avoidable crisis

The party’s election victories have been overshadowed by anger and confusion at Rayner’s sacking.

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A Labour shadow cabinet reshuffle will take place today, a source confirms, following a night of high drama and chaos in the party after Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, was sacked as party chair following the defeat in the Hartlepool by-election and other disappointing local council results in England.

Rayner was the election coordinator, but last night outraged colleagues from across the party insisted she was not responsible for key decisions in relation to that by-election defeat, instead pointing the finger at the Labour leader’s office. One source suggests that Starmer also blames Rayner for hostile briefings against his staff, a report corroborated in the Sunday Times.

The top story today plainly should not be “Labour Party in crisis”, and it is something of a strategic failure that it is. Hartlepool set the tone for these results (which may be why there is so much internal wrangling within Labour over who chose the by-election date) but it does not tell the full story, and nor does Labour’s loss of councils such as Durham, Dudley and Harlow.

This was a set of elections that rewarded incumbents, whether the Conservatives in England, the SNP in Scotland or Labour in Wales. Labour in England could have emphasised the incumbency effect and emphasised the much more mixed results that followed. But while the party retained the London mayoralty and won the Cambridgeshire mayoralty from the Conservatives, that news was drowned out by anger and confusion at Rayner’s sacking, a move that has alienated back-bench MPs and shadow cabinet members alike, while reinforcing a narrative of Labour in turmoil.  

And that’s before you consider that Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP has secured a fourth consecutive term in office and a pro-independence majority with the Greens. The biggest news this morning should easily be the fallout from that victory and the UK government’s response to her stated intention to pass legislation for an independence referendum. This is a difficult story for Boris Johnson, yet Labour is competing with it for attention on this mornings front pages.

The decision to sack Rayner last night has plunged Labour into a crisis it didn’t need to be in. The decisions that Starmer is making in the wake of these results are deeply revealing of his strengths and weaknesses as a leader and as an operator. There’ll be much more on that, on the unfolding story in Scotland, and more analysis of all the election results on the New Statesman website all day today.

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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