Keir Starmer is expected to reshuffle his frontbench on Sunday, including finding a significant new role for his deputy, Angela Rayner, after his decision to remove her as party chair and national campaign coordinator caused a backlash.
Rayner’s sacking was criticised as “scapegoating” by the former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, while the newly re-elected Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, tweeted that he could not support it.
Senior Labour sources were confirming on Saturday evening that Rayner had been asked to relinquish both roles, as the party shakes up its approach to campaigns in the light of a raft of disappointing results in Thursday’s Hartlepool byelection and English council elections.
Allies of Rayner were baffled and furious, and a string of MPs lined up to criticise the decision. The row overshadowed the announcement of positive results for Labour, including Burnham’s thumping victory.
But by Sunday morning, the Starmer loyalist Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish secretary, was claiming Rayner had been offered a “significant promotion”.
“Angela Rayner hasn’t been sacked, as I understand it, Angela Rayner has been offered a significant promotion, to take her from the back office of the Labour party running elections, to the front office where she’s talking to the country,” he told Sophy Ridge on Sky News.
He added: “Keir Starmer has decided to do a reshuffle of his frontbench to respond to those election results.”
Rayner has her own power base in the party, because she was directly elected to the position of deputy leader.
Her frontbench role, which has not yet been announced, is expected to form part of a wider shakeup, with potential casualties expected to include the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, and the shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth.
Starmer is said by allies to be keen to bring more media-savvy big-hitters into prominent roles, with the former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper and the former development secretary Hilary Benn frequently mentioned.
Some reports suggested the shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, could also be vulnerable, but late on Saturday night Labour sources denied that. “You won’t find many former leadership rivals who have been as loyal – she’s a massive asset and highly rated,” they said.
Starmer has also appointed Deborah Mattinson, a veteran pollster and former adviser to Gordon Brown, as Labour’s new head of strategy. Mattinson is the author of a recent book about the “red wall” for which she spent months talking to voters in former Labour-held seats about why they had deserted the party, and what might tempt them back.