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Keir Starmer needs a way to calm Labour’s infighting over ‘purge’ of left wingers

The row is damaging the party’s general election campaign

The intervention on Thursday of deputy leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner in support of Diane Abbott has cranked up the pressure on party leader Keir Starmer, who has faced criticism over allegations of a party purge of Abbott and other left-wing election candidates.

He must now seek a way to calm the situation before it spirals out of his control and further overshadows Labour’s campaign. Starmer will find it difficult to maintain his favourite attack line about “Tory chaos” while his own party is mired in tumultuous infighting.

A climbdown from Starmer’s camp now seems likely. If his allies choose instead to double down in their row with the party’s left, a damaging confrontation might be inevitable.

Until this week Abbott, a Labour MP for 37 years, had been suspended for the past year over comments she made in the Observer newspaper downplaying the discrimination faced by Jews, Irish people and Travellers, in comparison to racism endured by black people.

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Abbott, the first black woman elected to parliament, apologised immediately but was still suspended pending an investigation, with her future ultimately to be decided by Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC). It is stuffed with allies of Starmer, the party leader of whom Abbott, an ally of past leader Jeremy Corbyn, has been a frequent critic.

Abbott’s suspension was finally lifted this week but late on Tuesday a story in the Times newspaper that was attributed to party sources suggested she was “banned” from standing as a Labour MP.

Cue a furious backlash from Labour’s left, who accused Starmer’s team of a spiteful humiliation of Abbott. Even Labour moderates believed she had been treated with disrespect.

Support for her grew on Wednesday as the row clouded out Labour’s attempts to put the focus on Tory handling of the NHS. But even while this was happening, another two prominent Labour left wingers were barred from standing.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle, an MP in Brighton, was suspended on Wednesday after an unspecified allegation was made against him. He described it as “vexatious and politically motivated” and “designed to disrupt” his election bid.

Then at 9pm on Wednesday Faiza Shaheen, a London left-wing Labour candidate known as the “Chingford Corbynite”, was also suspended over tweets she had “liked” over the past 10 years. It was alleged some of the tweets liked by Shaheen, a Muslim, had played up anti-Semitic tropes.

Russell-Moyle appears to have resigned himself to not being allowed to stand but Shaheen said on Thursday she would take legal action.

In the middle of all of this, Rayner intervened in the Abbott row on Thursday to say she couldn’t “see any reason” why the formerly suspended couldn’t be allowed to stand as a Labour MP.

Starmer insisted on Wednesday that Abbott had not been banned – a decision on that will be taken by the NEC next Tuesday. On Thursday, he appeared to compliment her as a “trailblazer”, leading to suggestions that he was making space for the NEC to bring her back into the Labour fold and dampen the row.