What is there to be said about Keir Starmer’s mystifyingly stupid, self-discrediting and self-destructive decision to sack Angela Rayner as Labour Party chair? Other than the obvious, which is that unless it emerges in relatively short order that Rayner has been quietly defrauding Labour Party funds or running an illicit drug ring, it is mystifyingly stupid, self-discrediting and self-destructive. (Though I suppose given that, we cannot rule out the possibility that someone close to the Labour leader is running an illicit drug ring.)
Bluntly, there is no intelligent analysis of the local elections that would pin the blame on Labour’s deputy leader. These are elections in which the incumbent governments in England, Scotland and Wales have all seen major gains: a picture that defies the idea that what we are seeing is either about a deep-rooted and enduring realignment of the so-called “Red Wall” behind the Conservative Party or that it is a particularly commentary on anything within the gift of Labour.
Indeed, a cool-headed Labour leader surely had a good counter-narrative to tell: that despite the most favourable backdrop imaginable for a governing party, his party had won the only open mayoral seat (the West of England) and continued its forward march in areas that are trending Labour. Add a note of genuine praise for some of the government’s achievements with something slightly radical – say, by praising the furlough scheme, noting that it had prevented a crash in incomes during the pandemic and proposing the introduction of a six-month furlough-style scheme for the newly unemployed in perpetuity – conduct a quiet reconstruction of parts of his office in reflection of the handful of things within Labour’s control that went wrong, and focus on the issues that will actually decide the next election: crime and climate change, say. The current political circumstances – the end of lockdown, and with it, booming consumer confidence and economic growth – are not going to last forever. Labour just needed to keep a cool head.
Instead, Starmer has decided to scapegoat – or, I think more accurately, try to scapegoat – Rayner. His deputy has privately defended the Labour leader from what she perceived to be unfair criticism, and taken considerable flank from her own allies on the party’s left. Now she has been rewarded with dismissal from the post of Labour Party chair.
The result will likely be both a deepening of Labour’s existing divides and an opening of new wounds, as many MPs who had, until now, regarded Starmer’s leadership as a positive are now left in a state of confusion and anger. (One representative reaction to me escalated from asking if I were joking to describing it as a “fucking joke”.) It must now surely mean that Starmer’s leadership is in considerable peril.
But the action is more troubling than that. To be blunt, if you think these election results were primarily in the control of anyone in the Westminster Labour party, you are not a serious figure, and your political judgement is highly suspect. The list of people to have revealed themselves to be part of that tendency now includes the party’s present leader. That is a far bigger problem than a series of bad election results in highly favourable circumstances for the Conservative government.