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8 May 2021updated 22 Jul 2021 6:13am

“Gobsmacked“ Labour MPs react with anger to Angela Rayner’s sacking as party chair

Furious shadow cabinet members have accused Keir Starmer of making a "scapegoat" of Rayner, pointing the finger of blame for Hartlepool at his key aide Jenny Chapman.

By Ailbhe Rea

Labour MPs have reacted with fury and incredulity at Keir Starmer’s decision to sack deputy leader Angela Rayner as party chair, following Labour’s by-election defeat in Hartlepool and a disappointing set of local election results in England. 

“It is wrong on every level,” said one Labour shadow cabinet minister. “Keir Starmer said he would take ‘full responsibility’. I don’t see how sacking Angela does that. You can’t be sacking Angela Rayner, who is a working-class northern woman who’s been working her arse off. It’s madness.” A frontbench colleague added that Starmer was making a “scapegoat” of the party’s deputy leader, and that his leadership is “losing credibility” as a result.

“The PLP is absolutely gobsmacked,” another frontbencher said. “We know Angela had nothing to do with the defeat in Hartlepool.” Rayner was officially the Campaign Coordinator of these elections, but MPs are adamant she was not the decision-maker in relation to the Hartlepool by-election. “Everything has been decided by the leader’s office,” one shadow cabinet member said. 

The finger is mainly being pointed at Jenny Chapman, a former Labour MP and senior Starmer aide. She chose the Labour candidate in Hartlepool and is also thought by shadow cabinet members to have chosen the date of the by-election, against the advice of others. “Any communications we had about the campaign in Hartlepool came from Jenny Chapman,” one frontbencher said. Several have expressed bafflement that the Labour leader has kept Chapman in post. “She is not fit for the job. If anyone is to blame, it’s her.” 

Both shadow cabinet ministers and back-benchers are now expressing concerns about a lurch to the right in response to these election defeats. “This is utter madness. Angela Rayner is not the problem. The PLP is up in arms and even my local party is outraged. At the advice of Ben Nunn [director of communications] and Chris Ward [another aide in the leader’s office], Keir is doubling down and making a deliberate shift rightwards,” one MP from the party’s left said. 

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Shadow cabinet members and MPs are now fearing what else is coming. “It’s going to be an interesting 24 or 48 hours.”