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Lisa Nandy ran against Keir Starmer for the Labour leadership after the 2019 general election defeat. (Photo: Christopher Furlong via Getty Images)
Lisa Nandy has dismissed speculation that Keir Starmer is lining up a successor to lead the party if he is forced to quit as “absolute nonsense”.
Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary who is often touted as a future Labour leader, said she had not spoken to Starmer about plans to secure a replacement if Durham Constabulary fine him for breaching Covid rules.
Although he has insisted he did not break any rules, the Labour leader has promised to step down if he is issued with a fixed penalty notice over a takeaway beer and curry he ordered with campaigners in the city last year.
Nandy was responding to reports in the Sunday Times that Starmer — who has been battling days of negative headlines and briefing — has told potential rivals to put campaign teams in place to continue to ensure his work in rebuilding the party does not go to waste.
According to the newspaper, Starmer told allies: “I will not let this party become a basket case again. I will not let our hard-won gains be squandered so we will need to be ready in the unlikely event that the worst comes to the worst.”
But asked about the report on Sky News, Nandy said she had only spoken to Starmer twice in the last couple of days about “how we persuade this government to lift a finger to avert a crisis on the railways”.
Presenter Sophy Ridge joked: “Are you a bit worried he’s been talking to Wes Streeting and not you?”
Nandy replied: “No, I’m not worried that he’s been talking to anybody about succession planning, because I know that he’s been talking to all of us about how we rid this country have a government that has held us back for the last 12 years and finally start to deliver for working people — that is the conversation that we’re having in the Labour Party at the moment.”
And asked separately on Times Radio whether she was plotting her own leadership bid behind the scenes, Nandy said: “Not true. Not true at all. I’ve not been having fundraising dinners, I haven’t been launching some kind of leadership bid.
“The only job that I am going after right now is Michael Gove’s and I am determined that I’m going to get it. Not because of my wishes for myself, but because I’m ambitious for this country. And I know that we could do better than this.”
The Labour Party confirmed on Friday that both Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner have now returned their questionnaires to Durham Constabulary.
The prospect of a looming fine is just the latest headache for Starmer.
The Labour leader has endured days of negative headlines and briefings from members of his own shadow cabinet who have accused him of “boring voters to death”.
One told the Times: “Is he exciting? No, of course not — that isn’t why we ended up with him.
“But there is a big difference between not being Mr Razzmatazz and boring everyone to death . . . to loads of my constituents he just doesn’t exist in their minds at all.”
In return Starmer was forced to tell his shadow cabinet not to brief the press that he was boring, in an exchange one colleague described as “ironically very boring”.
However, Starmer has been defended by former prime minister Gordon Brown, who told him to “ignore” the negative briefings against him.
Asked by the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme what his advice would be to the Labour leader, Brown replied: “To ignore this because what’s exciting about the possibility of Keir Starmer’s leadership is he will have a plan for Britain.
“He will show how we can get back growth, he will show how we can get living standards rising again and he will show how we can have a fairer society that deals with climate change.
“Keir Starmer was the director of public prosecutions. He’s been a great public servant over many years and I think he will make a great prime minister.”
Next week Starmer will be put to the test in a key by-election in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, where the former Tory MP was forced to stand down following his conviction for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
Recent polls have put Labour 20 points ahead of the Tories for the contest on June 23.
However, internal polling cited in the Sunday Times suggests that lead could in fact only be around eight points.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.