This was a miserable week for the U.K.'s Labour Party. We looked at how the elections were going as the votes started coming in on Friday-- and noted how the Democrats are walking into the same conservative-lite trap. It got much worse for Labour since then. Labour shedded 247 local council seats, while the Conservatives picked up 290 seats. The Conservatives gained absolute control over 11 more councils: Basildon, Cannock Chase, Cornwall, Dudley, Gloucester, Harlow, Maidstone, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Nuneaton & Bedworth, Pendle, Southampton, Welwyn Hatfield and Worcester. And, as we saw Friday, the by-election in Hartlepool was catastrophic-- Labour losing the seat to the Conservatives (for the first time ever) in a 51.9% to 28.7% landslide.
How can a Labour Party with a leader who uses the appellation "Sir" in front of his name, be taken seriously? What the hell is wrong with those idiots who elected him to lead the party? It must have been difficult for ego-maniac Sir Keir Starmer to blurt out the empty words on Friday that he takes "complete responsibility" for Labour's disaster. But he deserves complete responsibility on several levels. He's moved the party to the right; he picked the right-of-center candidate for Hartlepool himself; and his office took all the tactical and strategic decisions for the elections. But the next day he fired party chair Angela Rayner, trying to shift the blame on her. He should resign.
Michael Savage had a good look at what happened in The Guardian today. "When Angela Rayner secured Labour’s deputy leadership," wrote Savage, "her authentic working-class credentials and respect from the party’s left instantly made her an important figure in Keir Starmer’s vow to reunite after the internal warring under Jeremy Corbyn. Her sacking as party chair, however, risks reopening Labour wounds that are far from healed."
While originally regarded as being on the party’s left flank when she entered parliament in 2015, Rayner has already shown some adept political skill in navigating the years of feuding. While she was seen as on the party’s left, she was also not regarded as a staunch Corbynite. Even as Corbyn’s shadow education secretary, she managed to dodge much of the warring.
Many figures in the party actually regard her politics as much more steeped in the traditional values of the trade union movement – hardly surprising, given her time working for the Unison union, which led her to the Labour Party.
...While not part of the Corbyn inner circle, Rayner did win significant support on the left during the deputy leadership contest, pledging to “make the case for everyday socialism rooted in people’s lives”. During her time as shadow education secretary, she also drew up plans for a “national education service” comparable to the NHS.
...When The Observer interviewed Rayner during the local election campaign, she acknowledged some Labour members wanted more passion and criticism of the Tory government from Starmer, but she presented a united front. “Myself, Keir and our team are saying to people: we understand you rejected us in December 2019 and we’re listening now, and we’re offering you what we think is in the interest of the British people-- that’s to work together.”
Behind the scenes, there were tensions. While Rayner had the title of campaign coordinator, her allies said that in reality she had been given little or no control over the local elections, with all key decisions coming from the leader’s office. Some believed that even weeks before the results came in, she was being set up to take the blame for a poor outcome. Some close to Starmer continued to believe she was behind reports criticising the performance of Starmer’s political director, the former Labour MP Jenny Chapman. Some senior figures also blamed her for the botched and messy process for selecting Labour’s candidate for Liverpool mayor.
Starmer allies insist that Rayner will remain a senior part of the team and so has not been “sacked”-- but the manner in which her removal as party chair has been handled will leave bad blood. Rayner is not a good opponent to choose. While she did not emerge as the left’s leadership candidate, her treatment will see her gain sympathy among the party’s still numerous left-wing membership. The fact Rayner remains deputy leader is also significant. It is an elected position, which gives her an independent mandate from party members. As Corbyn found out when he repeatedly came into conflict with his deputy Tom Watson, it can be a highly important role from which she can build her own power base.
There were suggestions last night that Starmer may want to use Rayner’s ability to call out Tory privilege by shifting her to shadow Commons leader, which would see her take on Jacob Rees-Mogg in the Commons. It may prove to be a job she excels at and enjoys, but the manner of her sacking as party chair has piled more pressure on Starmer even as he was facing his first major setback as party leader.