If you think the Labour Party has been in a mess since Thursday 6 May’s local elections, you’d be right. Because another political civil war is starting. But ultimately, as with all Labour in-fighting, the real casualties will be the poorest people in society.
Starmer: blame anyone but himself?
Late on Saturday 8 May, Twitter was awash with rumours that Starmer had sacked Angela Rayner. It was from her job as chairperson:
CONFIRMED: Angela Rayner has been sacked as Labour Party chair. She remains deputy leader. https://t.co/jH0sfoPMSr
— Gabriel Pogrund (@Gabriel_Pogrund) May 8, 2021
Apparently, it was partly to do with Starmer’s political secretary Jenny Chapman. The Sunday Times‘s political editor Tim Shipman tweeted that:
Defend Jenny Chapman at all costs! That must be the main goal, I tell you. Who is this woman? What has she got on Starmer? A failed red wall MP who has shown no evidence she has any understanding of politics https://t.co/9st6H9UWfg
— Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound) May 8, 2021
But Shipman also inadvertently made the ‘plot thicken’ with this deleted tweet:
Tell us about this, Timbo pic.twitter.com/k3QNGIen5a
— ʇsılɐıɔoS ʎluɹoqqnʇS 😷 🌈 🦊 💙#ExLabour (@FoalytheCentaur) May 8, 2021
Rumours circulated that Anneliese Dodds, Lisa Nandy, and Jon Ashworth’s jobs were also at risk. People’s feelings over the whole affair were mixed. Sociologist Gayle Letherby summed up many of the comments on Twitter:
It's possible to believe that Angela Rayner sold out the Left & at the same time think that her sacking by the man who promised to 'take full responsibility' is both cowardly & naive.
— Prof Gayle Letherby 💙 #PeaceAndJustice (@gletherby) May 8, 2021
Also of note was that Starmer didn’t have anyone from his shadow cabinet team on The Andrew Marr Show. So Sky‘s Sam Coates’ tweet takes on a bit more significance. Because the lack of a shadow cabinet guest could indicate the level of chaos:
It will be fascinating to see which Labour frontbencher Keir Starmer’s office decide to put up on the Sunday talk shows
— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) May 8, 2021
Not “sacked” – “promoted”
Early on Sunday 9 May, Labour HQ said Starmer hadn’t “sacked” Rayner:
The line is that "Angela Rayner has not been sacked". Right.
— Sienna Rodgers (@siennamarla) May 9, 2021
🚨NEW: Labour now say Angela Rayner has NOT been sacked.
Apparently she’s been given a ‘big promotion’ instead.
But Labour refuse to say what position she’s been “promoted” to, or whether she’s even accepted said “promotion”.
She’s definitely not Labour Chair anymore, though.
— Evolve Politics (@evolvepolitics) May 9, 2021
A Labour frontbencher seemed to confirm this on Sophy Ridge on Sunday. Shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray said that Starmer had given Rayner a:
significant promotion which takes her from the back office to the front.
The BBC also reported that a Starmer “reshuffle” was incoming.
But who’s helping foment the chaos? Guardian commentator Owen Jones had an idea:
Senior Labour source tells me that when Shadow Cabinet members complained to Keir Starmer’s office about the terrible lines they were given to take to the media after the Hartlepool disaster, they were told Peter Mandelson had signed them off.
— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) May 9, 2021
And Peter Mandelson was pushing for “reform” of Labour in the aftermath of the Rayner chaos:
Mandelson says the "hard left factions attached to trade unions have got to go" and party reform should be a priority for Starmer.
This is what you might call … not exactly a neutral statement.
— Rachel Wearmouth (@REWearmouth) May 9, 2021
Meanwhile, Starmer has also just made Deborah Mattison his new head of strategy. She was a pollster for New Labour for around 20 years. Oh, and she praised right-wing Reform UK’s Claire Fox for ‘taking a pin to the lefty bubble’:
— Deborah Mattinson (@debmattinson) January 14, 2017
So, what’s really going on?
Centrist civil war
Then, you have the centre right: Mandelson, Wes Streeting, Jess Phillips, Yvette Cooper and so on. People like former Blairite minister Andrew Adonis are openly tweeting things like this:
For what it’s worth, it is my judgement that the only Labour leader likely to be able to win the next election is Tony Blair
— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) May 9, 2021
And If the current storm and impending civil war are centred around Chapman, then it would make sense.
She is former vice chair of the centre-right think tank Progress, and used to work for arch Blairite Alan Milburn. She seems to have been behind Starmer and Labour’s vision. Peter Mandelson’s assertions that ‘it was Corbyn, not Starmer wot lost Labour Hartlepool’ are telling – because Chapman was reportedly behind the party’s strategy there.
And of course, watching from the side lines are the socialist left. They’re probably thinking how familiar this all looks.
But ultimately observing this are the electorate.
Power at all costs
As The Canary previously reported, in the recent elections, and stretching back years before, many of the poorest voters have felt so detached from politics they no longer cast their ballots. On 6 May, the majority of them and voters more broadly didn’t even enter the polling booth. This included in Wales, where Labour won. And it’s this which is the eternal paradox within the party. It wants to be in power but doesn’t care if most of the public wants it to be or not.
Labour has spent the best part of a decade arguing with itself. Meanwhile, in that time working class voters have increasingly abandoned the party. Or they’ve felt so disconnected they haven’t voted at all. Even at Jeremy Corbyn’s seminal 2017 election, the reality was that only one in four of the poorest 11.5m voters actually voted for him.
So, if the soft left and centre right of Labour think that another civil war will help their decade-long decline, they’re sorely mistaken. To outsiders, it shows yet more detachment from their lives. It will probably mean years of Tory rule – and more suffering for the poorest people in the UK. But moreover, it shows the rabid desire for power at all costs that seems to exist among most Labour politicians and their backers.
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