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AFP
May 10, 2021

UK election setback sparks Labour infighting

AFP
May 10, 2021

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party was split over future strategy and embroiled in political infighting on Sunday after suffering huge losses in local polls.

Keir Starmer, Labour’s leader since 2020, sacked the chair of the party Angela Rayner on Saturday evening after saying he was "bitterly disappointed" by the results. Starmer was reportedly set to launch a reshuffle of his shadow cabinet, while speculation mounted over his own future as leader.

The Times wrote that Starmer’s reshuffle "could begin as early as Monday". Supporters of previous leader Jeremy Corbyn led criticism of Starmer, with Corbyn’s close ally, Labour MP Diane Abbott, telling Sky News it was "in many ways a disappointing result". "I think sacking Angela Rayner was not a forward-thinking thing to do," she added.

John McDonnell, former Shadow Chancellor under Corbyn, in a BBC interview accused Starmer of failing to create attractive policies. "You can’t send candidates into the field like that naked, without any policy," he said.

Under hard-left Corbyn, Labour was damaged by accusations of anti-semitism and had a disastrous general election showing in 2019. Starmer, formerly a human rights lawyer and public director of prosecutions, was elected leader in April 2020, promising to "re-connect" with voters.

"On last week’s showing, he has spectacularly failed", The Times said. However Ian Stewart, Shadow Secretary for Scotland, told Sky News that Starmer "needs time" to turn the situation around.

"We’ve got to have a positive policy platform and that’s what Keir Starmer is determined to do," he said. Labour performed poorly in Thursday’s council elections in England and lost to the Tories in a key by-election in Hartlepool in northeastern England, a Labour heartland since the 1970s.

In Scotland, Labour dropped two seats in the devolved parliament under new leader Anas Sarwar, who took over in February. It counted successes in Wales, holding onto power in the devolved parliament and in several mayoral races including London, where Sadiq Khan won a second term.

Andy Burnham, who easily won re-election as a popular mayor of Greater Manchester in northern England appeared to issue a veiled challenge to Starmer’s leadership, telling Sky News: "If the party were ever to feel they needed me, I’m here".

The results in England appeared to be a vote of confidence in Johnson’s leadership post-Brexit and the UK’s successful vaccine rollout, despite the country’s death toll remaining the highest in Europe.