Starmer seeks to build bridges with Rayner and calm Labour nerves

Party leader says blame for poor election rests with him after rancorous weekend

Labour leader Keir Starmer has sought to calm nerves in his party after a chaotic weekend of internal conflict and a botched shadow cabinet reshuffle that left his authority weakened. Sir Keir made a public display of unity with Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner, whom he sacked from two of her positions on Saturday, only to appoint her to three more on Sunday.

Ms Rayner’s allies suggested that Sir Keir was trying to scapegoat her for Labour’s poor results in last week’s elections in England but at a shadow cabinet meeting on Monday he said any blame belonged with him.

“To be clear, I take responsibility. Nobody else. I lead the Labour Party and it is entirely on me,” he is reported to have said.

Sir Keir's conflict with Ms Rayner overshadowed some of Labour's best results on Saturday and Sunday when the party held mayoralties in London, Liverpool and Manchester and captured the west of England from the Conservatives. Labour also made gains in local council elections in Conservative heartlands in Oxfordshire and West Sussex.


Andy Burnham, who was re-elected mayor of Greater Manchester with two-thirds of the vote, said the row in London had taken attention away from Labour's victories there and in neighbouring Liverpool.

“We’ve got 10 Labour mayors now across the country, that is a fantastic foundation for the Labour Party to build on and I believe he will, and that’s the opportunity before us,” Mr Burnham said.

"I didn't see why we were getting a negative story on Saturday night when myself and Steve Rotheram and other people around the country had good victories to celebrate, so that wasn't right, but I don't think the way Angela was treated was right."

Byelection headache

One of Labour's wins could create a headache for Sir Keir after Tracy Brabin won the mayoralty of West Yorkshire, triggering a byelection in her Westminster seat of Batley and Spen. The contest, which is likely to be held in July, will be an important test for Sir Keir, whose leadership of the party is in question for the first time since he succeeded Jeremy Corbyn last year.

Former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown called on Monday for a review of how the United Kingdom is governed and a permanent forum for its nations and regions following the Scottish National Party's (SNP) fourth successive victory in Scotland's parliamentary elections. Mr Brown, who played a key role on the anti-independence side during the 2014 referendum, said the choice in a future referendum should be between independence and further constitutional change within the UK rather than the status quo.

“I’m not afraid of a referendum. I actually think that we have got all the arguments and will develop all the arguments that will win that referendum,” he said.

Downing Street dismissed the idea of a permanent forum for the nations and regions and rejected Mr Brown’s call for constitutional change.

“Ministers and officials across all UK government departments are currently focused on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, and through the recent elections all party leaders across the UK said Covid recovery should be our shared priority. And that’s what the UK government is going to be focusing on,” Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times