As the Labour leader faces a backlash for his praise of the former Tory prime minister, a leaked email shows he stopped Sam Tarry, then the party’s shadow minister for transport, from attacking her failed policies in 2021.
Mr Tarry has been romantically linked to deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, whom she described as her “soulmate” in April this year, but the couple is understood to have separated in the last month.
Mr Tarry was fired by Sir Keir from his transport brief in July 2022 for making up policy “on the hoof”, after he gave a series of unauthorised interviews from the picket line. There has long been speculation about Sir Keir and Ms Rayner’s strained relationship, with the deputy leader of the opposition once describing it as an “arranged marriage”.
Two years ago, Mr Tarry was keen to praise Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham’s announcement that bus services were to be brought under public control, and wanted to hail the “biggest announcement on buses since Thatcher’s failed Transport Act in 1985”.
The Tory leader’s act introduced privatised and deregulated bus services throughout Great Britain and led to the mass sale of council bus companies. It has been criticised for pushing up fares and eroding Britain’s bus network, leaving passengers in some areas stranded.
Left-winger Mr Tarry had wanted to criticise her 1985 Transport Act, saying it “failed to deliver lower fares and better services across Greater Manchester”.
But when the comments were sent to Sir Keir’s office for approval, one of his top aides insisted the reference to Thatcher be taken out.
The leaked email said: “Can we take out the Thatcher stuff and instead criticise the current government?”
An adviser to Mr Tarry pushed back on the suggested edit and replied: “Mr Burnham’s happy with it and she’s despised in the north, so it will play well with voters.”
But Sir Keir’s aide insisted the reference be removed to “focus on the current set of elections and criticise the current set of Tories”.
The approved quote went out as: “The decision to take local public control of Greater Manchester’s buses will benefit all users, after Conservative governments have spent the last 10 years presiding over a toxic mix of cuts to services and ever-rising fares.
“This is a positive step forward from one of the leading mayors in Britain, who’s not afraid to take bold measures that are in the best interests of all those across Greater Manchester. This clearly shows what Labour can do in power.”
A source familiar with the exchange said it was indicative of Labour’s refusal to criticise Ms Thatcher under Sir Keir’s leadership, adding that recent praise for her was “less of a surprise and more of a confirmation of the Labour leader’s admiration for the former prime minister”.
Labour declined to comment on the emails.
The revelation came after Sir Keir used an op-ed to claim the former prime minister effected “meaningful change” and “set loose Britain’s natural entrepreneurialism”.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he said: “Every moment of meaningful change in modern British politics begins with the realisation that politics must act in service of the British people, rather than dictating to them.
“Margaret Thatcher sought to drag Britain out of its stupor by setting loose our natural entrepreneurialism. Tony Blair reimagined a stale, outdated Labour Party into one that could seize the optimism of the late Nineties.”
Sir Keir was following in the footsteps of his predecessor Sir Tony, who also praised the Iron Lady in the run-up to his 1997 general election landslide.
But he faced a furious backlash from left-wing MPs, with one saying the former Tory PM “caused poverty and deprivation not seen since the Dickensian era”.
On Monday, Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden said he would not use the word “admire” to sum up how he felt about Thatcher, and would instead say she was “successful electorally”.
But left-wing Labour MP Beth Winter told The Independent that the Thatcher governments between 1979 and 1990, “devastated communities with the deliberate destruction of the mining industry”.
She added: “Policies like the grossly iniquitous poll tax and the great privatisation rip-off offs were the hallmarks of Thatcherism.”
Another Labour MP Ian Byrne said Ms Thatcher’s legacy was “inequality, hunger, destitution and misery”. And Kim Johnson, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, said Thatcher “did nothing for working class communities in Liverpool and across the country”.
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” Ms Johnson warned.
Sir Keir defended his remarks on Monday, telling a Resolution Foundation conference: “What I was doing at the weekend … was distinguishing between post-war leaders who had a driving sense of purpose, a mission, a plan, and those who drifted.”
Grilled on the backlash from the left, the Labour leader said: “It doesn’t mean I agree with what she did, but you don’t have to agree with someone to recognise that they had a mission and a plan, in her particular case about entrepreneurship.”
Sir Keir said the Tory government of the last 13 years had overseen “complete drift”. He added: “Can anybody in this room define the mission of the last 13 years? What was it? ... I want a mission-led Labour government.”