Starmer vows to sack those who brief against advisers amid ‘boys’ club’ row

Keir Starmer with Sue Gray, his chief of staff
Keir Starmer with Sue Gray, his chief of staff - Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to sack anyone found to have briefed against his advisers amid a row over claims he is being advised by a “boys’ club”.

In a sign of his frustration at anonymous attacks on his inner circle, the Labour leader issued a warning to insiders seeking to paint his “loyal team” in a bad light by alluding to a macho culture among senior officials.

It comes after several briefings praising Sue Gray, his chief of staff, and her approach to managing the party, appeared in the media following her appointment in September.

The former civil servant was poached by Labour in March last year, having shot to public prominence by leading the initial Whitehall investigation into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.

Supporters in the shadow cabinet have praised her for challenging a supposedly macho culture among Labour’s senior officials.

Advisers referred to as ‘the lads’

Sir Keir’s most influential advisers and campaign team were often referred to as “the lads” or “the boys” in the briefings.

One source, cited by The Mail on Sunday, said Ms Gray had “made it clear she intends to help leading women MPs and party figures make their voices heard, and to stop them being drowned out by pre-power machismo”.

Sky News also said those who had worked closely with Ms Gray praised her for “breaking up the boys’ club” and adding a “human element” to the party’s approach.

“She’s been providing so much of what has been missing,” one said.

According to The Times, the Labour leader told a 100-strong audience: “I know why they brief against people in this room.

“They do it because they don’t like the change we’ve brought to this party, and they do it to damage everything we’ve worked for.”

He also said Labour’s staff were the best team he had worked with during his legal and political career, and vowed to sack anyone briefing against them, “whoever they are”.

Gender split fairly even

The gender split in Labour’s top team is fairly even.

Senior male figures include Morgan McSweeney, the party’s campaign director, Matthew Doyle, the director of communications, and political director Luke Sullivan.

Top female aides include Sir Keir’s press secretary, Steph Driver, Deborah Mattinson, his director of strategy, and the party’s head of media, Sophie Nazemi.

The news that she was jumping ship to join Sir Keir’s team sparked anger in the Conservative Party, with government figures urging Acoba, the Whitehall appointments watchdog, to impose a cooling-off period of at least a year.

But despite saying it “shared some of the concerns” over a potential risk to the Civil Service’s integrity, the committee cleared Ms Gray to start as the Labour leader’s chief of staff after just six months.

Led by Conservative peer Lord Pickles, it said it had seen “no evidence” that her decision-making or impartiality were “impaired” while serving in Whitehall. She officially started the role in September.