Keir Starmer has sacked Angela Rayner from her roles as Labour’s party chair and national campaign coordinator after the humiliating loss of the Hartlepool byelection.
The worse-than-expected defeat in Hartlepool, which saw the Conservatives take the seat with a majority of almost 7,000, shocked Starmer’s team and led to recriminations at the top of the party.
Rayner’s status as deputy Labour leader is safe as that is a directly-elected post. But the move has reignited Labour’s civil war, as MPs and activists reacted with shock and dismay.
Gaya Sriskanthan, Momentum co-chair, called the move “blatant scapegoating”, saying of Starmer: “It is his failed strategy that has brought us to this point, and he said he would take responsibility. Yet again he has gone back on his word.”
Starmer and Rayner were said to have discussed her future on Saturday, with the Labour leader urging her to take on a different role in the wake of the Hartlepool loss, and a poor performance in local elections across much of England.
Rayner and Starmer carried out a string of visits together in the closing days of the local elections campaign but her allies complained she was given little leeway over campaign messaging or candidate selection in Hartlepool.
One senior Labour aide said: “There’s a lot of pressure to sack her from MPs and from staff,” though MPs contacted by the Guardian on Friday singled out other key figures for blame, including Starmer’s chief of staff, Jenny Chapman.
Rayner, the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, was shadow education secretary under Jeremy Corbyn, and was widely seen as a potential leadership candidate, but stepped aside to let her close friend Rebecca Long-Bailey run.