Labour’s leadership tried to make Angela Rayner “carry the can” by firing her as party chairman and elections co-ordinator in the wake of a poor performance in the local elections, according to veteran MP Diane Abbott.
The former home secretary said there is a “problem with strategy” within the party as she urged unity from Sir Keir Starmer, who has made changes to his top team amid criticism after the dismal results.
Rachel Reeves has been promoted to shadow chancellor as part of the Labour leader’s reshuffle, with former incumbent Anneliese Dodds relegated to party chairman.
Deputy leader Ms Rayner, fired as party chairman and elections co-ordinator on Saturday following Labour’s shock defeat in the Hartlepool by-election, takes Ms Reeves’ former post of shadow chancellor to the Duchy of Lancaster.
Following the reshuffle late on Sunday, Ms Abbott claimed that party officials had attempted to sack the elected deputy leader from the shadow cabinet.
“It does seem as if, certainly the people around him (Sir Keir Starmer), don’t understand how the party works,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“They tried to sack Angela Rayner in order to make her carry the can for the poor results at the weekend.
“They didn’t seem to realise that, because she’s an elected deputy leader, you can fiddle around with her title, but you can’t sack her, she remains a senior person in the shadow cabinet.”
Asked if it is Ms Rayner’s opinion that Sir Keir wanted to sack her, Ms Abbott said: “Yes, that’s what all the briefing was about.
“It was a foolish thing to even think about and he has had to walk it back – you can’t sack an elected deputy leader.”
MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington Ms Abbott urged Sir Keir to return to 10 policy pledges he made when he ran for the leadership, including abolishing Universal Credit.
Meanwhile, Shabana Mahmood, appointed as national campaign co-ordinator in the reshuffle, refused to rule out the party adopting a new policy for freedom of movement.
“There has to be a policy review process which we are now going to embark on together, as a movement, to try and work out what is the programme that we need to be offering the country,” she told Today.
“That’s the point of a policy review process, and that’s the correct and proper place for us to have this debate.
“It can’t just be a debate we have with ourselves, it has to be a platform that speaks to the public, and that’s the thing that all of us in the party have to gear ourselves towards.”
Labour received a drubbing in some parts of England, losing control of a host of councils and suffering defeat in Hartlepool, as the North East constituency elected a Tory MP for the first time since 1959.
The party lost control of Durham Council for the first time in a century, saw its leader deposed by the Greens in Sheffield, and also witnessed heavy defeats in Rotherham and Sunderland at local authority level.
But there were successes elsewhere, with the party dominating in the mayoral elections, claiming 11 of the 14 posts contested in cities and metropolitan regions across England.
Labour secured shock victories in the West of England and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, while banking comfortable wins in Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region, and holding on to London and Bristol.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said it had been a “difficult time” for Sir Keir to take over leadership of the party, but urged him to “pick up what the public are saying”.
He added: “The public like devolution, they are getting behind the idea of Labour mayors.
“We’ve got 10 Labour mayors now across the country – that is a fantastic foundation for the Labour Party to build on, and I believe he will, and that’s the opportunity before us.”
Labour MP and former Coronation Street actor Tracy Brabin was elected the first West Yorkshire Mayor on Sunday, setting the stage for another potentially difficult by-election for the party.
Ms Mahmood said the Batley and Spen by-election will be a “big test” for Labour, which she said needs to “earn the trust of voters again”.