Tuesday, 6 Jun 2023

Labour braced for ‘mad scramble’ if Starmer forced out

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It is claimed the Labour leader’s pledge to quit if the ongoing “beergate” investigation by Durham Police results in him being hit with a fine has “stoked” the leadership ambitions of MPs who want the top job.

A senior northern Labour MP said: “The fact that this has reared its head, it’s stoked the fire. [They] are thinking, okay, Keir just might not be there at the next election.”

The commitments given by Sir Keir and deputy leader Angela Rayner to stand down if they are fined over an April 2021 event where he had curry and beer have forced the party to confront the possibility a new duo may need to be found to lead Labour into the next election.

Another senior Labour MP said: “I think if he goes there it will be a mad scramble.”

There is nervousness in Conservative circles that the police probe could lead to Sir Keir being ousted. A senior insider said: “I think the internal view is we’d rather he’d stayed. [If Keir goes] they might get someone who’s a good communicator.

”A former Tory minister who wants the Labour leader to remain in place said: “The only virtue of Keir going is the chaos that would ensure in the Labour party.”

A Labour MP claimed Sir Keir lacked the campaigning skills of Boris Johnson, saying: “I think generally people aren’t very happy with what’s happening in the party. [Keir] as an individual doesn’t inspire people.” “You can pile up the votes in London but if you are not getting the votes in your former heartlands then you are not going to be winning elections.”

“Look at Johnson. I really dislike him, but the man’s a character and he can appeal to people.  That’s not the same with Keir Starmer, I’m afraid.”

The renewed leadership speculation comes in the wake of local elections which saw Labour make a net gain in England of just three councils and 22 councillors.

In contrast, the Liberal Democrat tally of councillors went up by 194 and the Greens’ by 63. If Sir Keir goes, Labour will be under pressure to elect its first female leader. 

The northern Labour MP said there is a “genuine feeling that it should be a woman” but added: “The Right-wing are pushing Wes Streeting big style but I don’t think there’s an appetite for that style of politics. You’ve got Lisa Nandy, you’ve got Rachel Reeves, you’ve got Yvette Cooper, Rosena Allin-Khan.” “There will not be any shortage of runners and riders.”

Another Labour MP said Leeds East MP Richard Burgon and Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana were considered potential candidates from the Left-wing of the party. 

Claiming this was a “credible” argument the PM could use if he wants to go to the country before the worst of the cost of living crisis bites, they said: “Boris can say, ‘I’ve been here three years. In the first year, I got Brexit done. In the second year, I got you all vaccinated. In the third year, I saw off the Russians.”

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