Sir Keir Starmer’s top aide is considering legal action over a ‘false’ claim that she has been banned from the Labour leader’s home – on the orders of his wife.
Labour MPs have been circulating on social media a strongly-denied claim on Twitter that Baroness Jenny Chapman, Sir Keir’s political director, had been barred by his wife Victoria.
The claim was swiftly denied, but not before it was apparently shared by Labour MPs on their WhatsApp groups.
Keir Starmer arrives with Ruth Smeeth, left and his political director Jenny Chapman, to deliver his keynote speech during the party's online conference
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pictured in Darlington alongside Jenny Chapman. Labour insiders stressed that the claim was ‘utter rubbish’, but declined to comment further
However, The Mail on Sunday learned last night that Baroness Chapman had ‘sought legal advice’ over the suggestion that she was not welcome in the Starmer family home.
Labour insiders stressed that the claim was ‘utter rubbish’, but declined to comment further.
It followed dismal election results, which sparked turmoil in the party, with Sir Keir first sacking deputy party leader Angela Rayner as campaign co-ordinator, only to have to promote her next day to a new high-profile Shadow Cabinet role.
But the results – including the humiliating loss to the Tories of the Red Wall seat of Hartlepool – also appeared to trigger a bout of hostile briefings against key party figures including Lady Chapman, who was blamed by many Labour MPs for bungling the by-election campaign by insisting on Remainer candidate Paul Williams in the fiercely pro-Brexit North-East seat.
That was followed by claims that Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris spread baseless rumours about the private life of Mrs Rayner, who split from her husband Mark last summer. Mrs Harris subsequently quit as Sir Keir’s parliamentary aide.
Mrs Rayner hit out at ‘gutter politics’ yesterday, telling The Times: ‘My personal life is my personal life. It’s not good for any of us if we start putting ourselves in that gutter arena.’
The deputy leader, now seen as a genuine contender to replace Sir Keir, also fuelled criticisms that the leader had been too soft on Boris Johnson when she effectively branded the PM a ‘granny killer’ for his management of the Covid crisis last year.
The Ashton-under-Lyne MP, 41, who became a grandmother herself at 37, declared that unlike the Prime Minister, ‘I won’t kill your granny’, adding: ‘He literally seeded the virus in care homes.’
Labour MPs privately say Sir Keir is severely weakened after being faced down by Mrs Rayner last weekend and failing to go through with what was thought to be a radical reshaping of his frontbench team.
In a new blow yesterday, the pollster Opinium claimed the Tories had a huge 13-point lead over Labour – an eight-point rise for Boris Johnson’s party in a fortnight – with the Tories on 44 per cent and Labour on 31 per cent.
Opinium also reported that Sir Keir was 17 points behind Mr Johnson when voters were asked who would be best as PM – 40 per cent compared with 23 per cent.
It followed dismal election results, which sparked turmoil in the party, with Sir Keir first sacking deputy party leader Angela Rayner
Labour’s leader faces what some feel is a ‘make-or-break’ by-election in Batley and Spen after sitting MP Tracy Brabin, who had a slim 3,525 majority over the Tories, quit last week having won the West Yorkshire mayoralty contest.
Sir Keir’s team appears to be putting its hopes on Kim Leadbeater, sister of murdered MP Jo Cox who previously held the seat, standing for the party and preventing the Tories inflicting another historic by-election defeat.
Ms Leadbeater is the founder and ambassador of the Jo Cox Foundation, established following the murder of her sister in 2016 by a man with links to a far-Right group.
Labour is also hoping that as Batley – unlike Hartlepool – has a large South Asian population, it will save the seat. But in a blow to those hopes, The Mail on Sunday understands pro-Palestinian campaigner and former MP George Galloway – who ousted Labour in the Bradford West by-election in 2012 – is likely to stand for the seat.
Earlier last week, he tweeted that his Workers Party GB would field a candidate as ‘the patriotic working-class alternative to #StarmerMustGo’.
And last night, one Labour MP said privately: ‘That is a huge blow to our hopes of holding the seat.
‘Kim Leadbeater would be a great candidate given the huge outpouring of sympathy and, of course, anger at what happened to Jo. But given what’s going on in Gaza and Israel now, Galloway – who is a formidable campaigner – could end up handing the seat to the Tories.’
Mrs Rayner played down any leadership ambitions yesterday, saying the idea of becoming Prime Minister ‘petrifies me’. She also made it clear that she believed Sir Keir was up to the top job, saying: ‘I wouldn’t stay otherwise.’
After defying Labour’s poor showing in the May 6 elections and being voted in again as Greater Manchester mayor last weekend, so-called King of the North Andy Burnham is now considered a hot favourite to become Labour leader.
But Labour MPs insist that as Mr Burnham is not an MP, Mrs Rayner is in pole position to replace the leader in the near future as hard-Left ex-Corbyn supporters would back her. One said: ‘The Left didn’t trust Angie before, but the way she stood up to Starmer last week has won her a lot of credibility.’
However, a Labour spokeswoman said: ‘The whole of the Shadow Cabinet is now relentlessly focused on learning from our election successes, addressing our challenges head on and holding the Government to account.’