OPINION - Labour’s August row comes early after Keir Starmer sacks Sam Tarry

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 (West End Final)
(West End Final)

The grass is turning blond, the out-of-office replies are bouncing back and the Labour Party is having an argument with itself. August has come early.

A few weeks ago, a reader emailed me asking why I never seem to write about Keir Starmer. In reply, I pointed out that opposition leaders are rarely as interesting as prime ministers, for the simple reason that governments govern while other side is reduced to publishing press releases.

Furthermore, starting with the Owen Paterson affair last November and ending with Boris Johnson’s resignation earlier this month – plus partygate and police fines in between – the last seven months have been nothing short of calamitous for the prime minister.

But today is a good one to check in on the Labour leader. He faces criticism from affiliated unions for sacking front-bencher Sam Tarry.

Starmer’s office asserts that Tarry lost his job not for visiting a rail picket line but for making unauthorised media appearances and failing to adhere to party policy.

This being the Labour Party, there are numerous factional and personality issues at play. Tarry is currently fighting a re-selection battle to stand again in his safe seat of Ilford South, and there are suggestions he was angling for a fight with his leader.

Those with long memories may also recall the controversy surrounding his original selection in 2019, when Jas Athwal, the ‘moderate’ Leader of Redbridge Council, was barred from standing after being accused of sexual harassment. Athwal was subsequently cleared of the charges, which he called “politically motivated”.

Tarry is also in a relationship with Angela Rayner. His sacking is therefore unlikely to repair the already fractious relations between the leader and his deputy.

Let’s not overcorrect. Starmer is attempting to do the virtually impossible. Return Labour to power after its worst election defeat since 1935, following a predecessor under whose leadership an investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found the party was responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination over how it dealt with complaints of antisemitism.

So Starmer must be his own Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair all rolled into one. And even this fails on its own terms, because the Jeremy Corbyn-Michael Foot comparison doesn’t really work for a whole host of reasons.

But this week’s missteps are a reminder that Labour is not yet the government in waiting its leader would like it to be. And with more strikes in all sorts of sectors coming down the line, Starmer needs to work out a line to take that is robust enough to last the year without alienating everyone in his party.

Elsewhere in the paper, apparently we don’t call two consecutive quarters of negative growth a recession anymore. Anyway, US GDP shrank by 0.9 per cent in the second quarter of the year, raising fears that the world’s largest economy is heading for a slowdown, the day after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by 0.75 percentage points.

In the comment pages, Andy Burnham warns that if ‘neo-Thatcherite’ Sunak or Truss betray levelling up, the UK will need a fresh election. While Jess Mills, chief executive and founder of the Tessa Jowell Foundation, says she’s building on her mother’s legacy by fighting brain cancer.

And finally, pressure. What pressure? As she warms up to defend her US Open crown, Emma Raducanu gets cosy with Laura Craik to talk about making friends on court, letters from the Queen and how she’s cutting herself some slack.

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