Sir Keir Starmer faces calls to reshuffle Labour frontbench following 'disastrous' Hartlepool and local election results

·2-min read
Sir Keir Starmer
Sir Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer is facing calls to reshuffle his frontbench team after senior Labour figures branded the Hartlepool by-election and early council results “absolutely disastrous”.

After the Conservatives overturned Labour’s 3,600 majority to secure the seat for the first time in its history, senior MPs and shadow cabinet members from across the political spectrum called for a change in direction.

While Sir Keir has said that he takes ultimate responsibility for the local election results, which have already seen significant swings to the Tories in traditional “Red Wall” areas, there is growing concern that many in his top team are largely “invisible” and unknown to the public.

There has long been a complaint among some senior frontbenchers that a number of colleagues are not “proactive enough”, with only a handful regularly put up for media and broadcast interviews.

In particular, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has been the subject of ongoing speculation, while Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, is also facing criticism from some quarters.

“You need to define what is the direction of travel, then reshuffle to reflect that,” one insider said. “He would have to move Anneliese Dodds if there was a reshuffle.”

Meanwhile, there is growing clamour for Sir Keir to bring in “heavyweights” from the backbenches, including Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn, in order to provide more experience and political clout on the frontbench.

There are also suggestions that any reshuffle could see the number of shadow cabinet posts reduced to reflect the positions in Government.

Such a move could see the roles of shadow international development secretary, currently occupied by Preet Kaur Gill, and shadow housing secretary, which is taken up by Thangham Debonnaire, axed.

Separately, multiple sources hit out at the lack of a coherent strategy heading into the “Super Thursday” polls, complaining that they lacked a message to sell on the doorstep.

Fingers have been pointed at Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader and national campaign coordinator, although others have singled out senior aides in Sir Keir’s office.

In particular, Baroness Chapman, his top political adviser, has been singled out for criticism over her role in Dr Paul Williams being selected as the party’s Hartlepool candidate.

Dr Williams, who lost his seat of Stockton on Tees in 2019, is an arch Remainer, despite the constituency voting overwhelmingly to leave the EU.

There are also questions about the decision to hold the by-election on the same day as polls for councils and metro mayors, amid suggestions that the Conservatives benefited in Hartlepool from strong local support for Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley mayor.

Morgan McSweeney, Sir Keir’s chief of staff, is also under fire.

“There are two particular targets at the moment: Angela and Keir’s office,” a senior Labour figure said. “Our failures have all been about our strategic position.”