Angela Rayner sacked as Labour chair after Hartlepool byelection loss

Move looks to reignite Labour civil war after worse-than-expected defeat in north-east

Keir Starmer has sacked Angela Rayner from her roles as Labour’s party chair and national campaign coordinator after the humiliating loss of the Hartlepool byelection.

The worse-than-expected defeat in Hartlepool, which saw the Conservatives take the seat with a majority of almost 7,000, shocked Starmer’s team and led to recriminations at the top of the party.

Rayner’s status as deputy Labour leader is safe as that is a directly-elected post. But the move has reignited Labour’s civil war, as MPs and activists reacted with shock and dismay.

Gaya Sriskanthan, Momentum co-chair, called the move “blatant scapegoating”, saying of Starmer: “It is his failed strategy that has brought us to this point, and he said he would take responsibility. Yet again he has gone back on his word.”

Starmer and Rayner were said to have discussed her future on Saturday, with the Labour leader urging her to take on a different role in the wake of the Hartlepool loss, and a poor performance in local elections across much of England.

Rayner and Starmer carried out a string of visits together in the closing days of the local elections campaign but her allies complained she was given little leeway over campaign messaging or candidate selection in Hartlepool.

One senior Labour aide said: “There’s a lot of pressure to sack her from MPs and from staff,” though MPs contacted by the Guardian on Friday singled out other key figures for blame, including Starmer’s chief of staff, Jenny Chapman.

Rayner, the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, was shadow education secretary under Jeremy Corbyn, and was widely seen as a potential leadership candidate, but stepped aside to let her close friend Rebecca Long-Bailey run.

Some Labour sources suggested the move was part of a wider reshuffle, which could see other senior figures including the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, removed from their posts.

Labour’s Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said: “The fear is, the leader’s office is now in headless chicken mode and looking into the void. We needed calm and considered and we got this. It really does look like they will thrash about like Alan Partridge pitching anything for a second season.”

One Labour MP who backed Starmer for leadership said the decision was “gobsmacking” and said it would erode trust that Starmer could respond rationally to the election fallout. “You don’t say, ‘I take full responsibility’ and then sack your deputy [as party chair].”

Another Labour MP said they saw the move as a way to pin blame on an internal rival rather than a loyalist such as Steve Reed or Jim Macmahon but said female MPs would “go batshit”.

Rayner was given little input in strategy decisions, MPs said. “This is the wrong fight to have,” said one.

One Northern MP said Rayner did bear some responsibility. “If she’s chair of the party and head of campaigns then she needs to take some of the responsibility. If Keir is serious about reform he needs to put some one in that role who knows what they are doing.”

A Labour source said: “Keir said he was taking full responsibility for the result of the elections – and he said we need to change. That means change how we run our campaigns in the future. Angela will continue to play a senior role in Keir’s team.”

It was unclear what alternative role would be offered, or whether she would accept it.


Heather Stewart

The GuardianTramp

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