Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is to stage a frontbench reshuffle amid a row over the sacking of the party’s chairman in the wake of dismal election results.
He is seen to have been bounced into the move after a backlash over removing his deputy Angela Rayner from her role as national campaign co-ordinator, with criticism across the party, including Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham who warned it was “wrong”.
Speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Labour frontbencher Ian Murray insisted Ms Rayner had not been sacked and had “taken a significant promotion”.
The internal spat comes after the party received a drubbing at the polls in some parts of the country, losing control of a string of councils and suffering defeat at the hands of the Conservatives in the Hartlepool by-election – the first time the North East constituency has gone blue since it was created nearly 50 years ago.
The sacking of Ms Rayner came amid recriminations at the top of the party, with rows over who is to blame for the election strategy that saw losses in traditional Labour heartlands.
The party lost control of Durham County Council for the first time in a century, saw its leader deposed by the Greens in Sheffield and also witnessed heavy council seat defeats in Rotherham and Sunderland.
Although Labour sources on Saturday evening were keen to stress that Ms Rayner – a former social care worker who hails from Stockport in the North West – would “continue to play a senior role” in Sir Keir’s team, prominent figures in the party have spoken out against the decision to remove her as chairman.
Mr Burnham – tipped as a potential successor to Sir Keir after winning a thumping majority to secure a second term as Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester – tweeted: “I can’t support this.
“This is straightforwardly wrong if it’s true.”
Members of former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s team on the left of the party, were among those to criticise the move to “scapegoat” the deputy leader.
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott called it “baffling” while John McDonnell branded it a “huge mistake”.
Ms Abbott told Ridge: “I think sacking Angela Rayner is not a unifying thing to do.
“I think it is baffling why he (Sir Keir) sacked Angela Rayner.
“She didn’t take any of the big decisions around Hartlepool and we’ve not heard anywhere in the country people saying they didn’t vote Labour because of Angela Rayner.”
She added: “I think it is puzzling to sack Angela Rayner and it really is unfair to have her take (the blame).”
Mr McDonnell, who served as shadow chancellor under Mr Corbyn, told the BBC: “When the leader of the party on Friday said he takes responsibility for the election result in Hartlepool in particular and then scapegoats Angela Rayner, I think many of us feel that is unfair, particularly as we all know actually that Keir’s style of leadership is that his office controls everything.
“It is very centralised and he controlled the campaign, so many of us think it is really unfair.
“What public relations genius thought this was a good move on the very day, actually, we were having successes – Andy Burnham in Manchester, Steve Rotheram in Liverpool, Paul Dennett in Salford, Marvin down in Bristol, Sadiq in London.
“The very day we’re recovering a bit and having successes, then they do this. I just think it is a huge mistake.”
But Mr Murray told Ridge: “Angela Rayner has not been sacked – she has taken a significant promotion which takes her from the back office to the front.”
However, he could not say what new position she had been given.