Labour’s Wes Streeting has returned to frontbench duties after being given the all-clear by cancer doctors.The Ilford North MP revealed in May that he would be stepping back from frontline politics while he underwent treatment for kidney cancer.Streeting, seen as one of the party’s rising stars, was promoted to the shadow cabinet just one week earlier by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as shadow secretary of state for child poverty.But the 38-year-old confirmed on Tuesday that his operation to remove his kidney was successful and that he is feeling well enough to return to work.In a new video posted on social media, Streeting thanked NHS staff at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London, for supporting him through his treatment.He also praised Ilford’s King George and Queen’s Hospitals for detecting the “cancer really early”, after he went into hospital for a check on a kidney stone.I'm over the moon to let you know that after a successful operation, I'm cancer-free, fighting fit and back in action.Thank you so much for all of the support I've had in recent months. It has meant more than words can say.Biggest thanks of all to the NHS. Total heroes.— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) July 27, 2021“Without that early action the conversation we would be having might be a very different one,” he said.“So, I just count my lucky stars really. I’ve lost a kidney but I’ve also got rid of the cancer. No chemotherapy, no radiotherapy. I’m just really lucky.“So, I’m back, back in action here in Ilford North working for my constituents and back in action in Labour’s shadow cabinet too.“You’ll be hearing lots more from me in the coming days, weeks and months and I can’t wait to get cracking.”A former president of the National Union of Students (NUS), Streeting was an outspoken critic of former leader Jeremy Corbyn over his failure to tackle antisemitism in the party.During Labour’s leadership race last year, he wrote a pamphlet in which he warned that if the party continued “Corbynism without Corbyn” it risked disappearing from the political map.“The next leader of the Labour party needs to hit a big reset button and to do so loudly enough that the voters notice,” he wrote in the Fabian Society paper.Streeting was originally campaign manager for Jess Phillips before she dropped out of the leadership contest, and later backed Starmer.He was one of the shadow ministers who toured the broadcast studios to defend Starmer following Labour’s poor showing during the “Super Thursday” local elections in May.Related...Labour MP Wes Streeting Diagnosed With Kidney CancerLabour Must Offer 'Optimistic' Vision For The Country, Says Yvette CooperKeir Starmer Self-Isolating After Child Tests Positive For Covid
Yvette Cooper has said Labour must set out an “optimistic” vision for the country if it wants to win back voters.In an interview with HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast, the senior Labour MP said the party was “working our way back step by step” from its 2019 general election defeat but still had “a long way to go”.Cooper, the chair of the home affairs committee, said the party needed to now offer a “credible” message to the country and did not rule out a future leadership bid.Over the summer Cooper said she wanted to see Labour “shouting a lot more” about supporting children in the wake of the Covid pandemic. “Children have had the roughest of years and we need everybody to come together to get kids back on track because otherwise we will be facing a crisis in a few years time,” she warned.“Children are so resilient, they are so amazing, they can all do wonderful things in the future, but they need that support.”Cooper, the MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford in West Yorkshire, said it was “completely wrong and unfair” for the government to not properly fund programmes to help children recover from lost education.Sir Kevan Collins, the education catch-up commissioner, quit his role in June over the government’s proposal of a £1.4 billion fund to help children recover missed lessons – he had proposed a £15 billion recovery package.Heading in to the summer, Keir Starmer’s Labour is trailing Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party in the polls.Cooper said it had been “an odd” and “unique” year in politics due to the pandemic.“But look, we have to say Labour has got to do a lot more, we’ve all got to do a lot more,” she said.“We are working our way back step by step from what was a very difficult defeat for us and we’ve got to earn votes back. I think we have to do it through optimism.“We can be angry about injustice, we can be angry about the utter chaos, the bumbling nature of the prime minister who doesn’t just like division he actually likes chaos and being able to mess around like a child.“We instead need to be the ones who want to pull the country together, but with that optimism.”Asked if she believed the party had been too downbeat in recent years, Cooper said: “I think in the 2019 election there were flashes of optimism, but people didn’t believe in them because it wasn’t credible. You’ve got to have credible optimism.“I think you have that sense of pride in the country and optimism about what more we can do who we can be.“It’s got to be practical. It can’t be pie in the sky because people are fed up of that.”A recent poll by Sky News showed Cooper was the most popular leadership candidate among sitting MPs, should Starmer face a contest.Asked if she would stand for leader at some point in the future, Cooper, who stood in the 2015 leadership race, said: “I think we have probably had quite enough leadership contests for a while. I think we have to get on with things.”Cooper said while Labour’s defeat at the Hartlepool by-election earlier this year was in part due to the popularity of local Tory mayor Ben Houchen, the result revealed deeper issues.“There is a wider thing it reflects, which is actually Labour has still got a long way to go.“People are very frustrated, whether it was by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership they didn’t support, or because of the second referendum policy, there are a lot of those things that caused big problems in a lot of areas across the north. We have to recognise that.”Cooper, who did not support holding another Brexit vote added there was “basically a failing on all sides” after the referendum. “I always thought a customs union was the best ways to do it,” she said.“Brexit has happened, Brexit is done,” she added. ”Our issue now is, what is our role in the world?”Related...Six Things You Might Have Missed The Government Announce This WeekDawn Butler Ordered To Leave Commons For Calling Boris Johnson A Liar
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Just before a parliamentary recess, governments often embark on a Take Out The Trash Day. A raft of written ministerial statements will suddenly appear, stuffed full of announcements or data that ministers hope will get buried amid the pile of departmental black bin bags.Thursday will still inevitably see that mass of information dropped on Westminster, but today the government seemed intent on a different kind of trash talk: soiling its own public health policy with yet more muddied messaging.In the apparent absence of a coherent pandemic plan for the third wave, both ministers and No.10 fuelled the suspicion that they are simply making things up as they go along. The day after ‘Freedom Day’ felt like free jazz day, with different bits of government riffing and soloing discordantly.Business minister Paul Scully kicked things off by suggesting the public could make their own “informed decisions” about isolation after being pinged by the Covid app, adding it was ultimately “up to individuals and employers”. Within minutes, No.10 had a not so gentle slapdown, stressing it was “crucial” people isolated when told to by the app. It’s worth saying that Scully was absolutely correct that there is no legal requirement to obey the ping, and it’s only if you’re directly contacted by Test and Trace that you need to stay at home. But his natural attempt to stress the needs of business contrasted with Downing Street’s emphasis on the needs of the healthcare system.Unfortunately, No10 added to the air of confusion by failing to come up with clarity on exactly which ‘critical workers’ would be allowed an exemption from isolation. There will not be any list of individual sectors that qualify, because “we’re not seeking to draw lines specifically around who or who is not exempt”, the PM’s spokesman said. That sounded less than still, it appears there will be a fantastically bureaucratic system whereby individual firms have to apply to individual Whitehall departments to seek exemptions for individual staff (though even that is unclear, as the spokesman later talked of “groups of individuals in specific sectors”). Unlike the clear definitions used last year for exemptions for overseas travel in the first wave, there is no definition at all. And in what appears to be a form of state planning beloved of Soviet East Germany, civil servants will use a ‘case by case’ approach, with no clue so far as to how long each application will take. No wonder business has said the plan is “unworkable”. No.10 is hoping to launch some fresh public health messaging later this week, but I don’t envy them. Instead of ‘Hands, Face, Space’, it seems we now have ‘Plans: Case By Case’.The sense of chaos was underlined with new figures showing a million schoolchildren were sent home to isolate in England in the past week. The numbers of under-5s in nurseries affected is high too, with all the knock-on effect on working parents. Some 10% of parliament’s armed police officers have been pinged, highlighting the scale of this third wave caseload.Another alarm bell ringing is the Guardian’s revelation that Border Force staff are so overwhelmed that they have been told they need no longer check negative test or passenger locator forms for airport arrivals from amber list countries. I suspect Keir Starmer may want to add that to his PMQs list on Wednesday. While Channel crossings of migrants alarms ministers, the Covid crossings at airports could end up much more concerning. In one early ‘Take Out The Trash’ move, the DWP slipped out its response to a consultation on statutory sick pay tonight and was swiftly accused of reneging on its promise to reform it. Citing the pandemic, the department said now “was not the right time to introduce changes to the rate of SSP or its eligibility criteria”. With increasing numbers asked to isolate, fear of losing income makes this a very live issue again.As if all that were not enough, there’s new Tory unease at the idea of U-turns on both Covid passports and jacking up national insurance to pay for social care (neither of which may get a Commons majority). They may well ask whether 2019 manifesto pledges being taken out with the trash too. Despite the backbench morale boost of an expected 3% pay rise for NHS staff, in some ways it’s probably a good thing Boris Johnson will not be physically present for his end-of-term session at the despatch box, or at the 1922 Committee. With Tory backbenchers, as with Covid, remote control is often no control at all. Still, Dominic Cummings could once again ride to the PM’s rescue, though this time not exactly as he intended. Tory MPs’ sheer loathing of the former adviser has gone off the scale after he told the BBC he discussed a ‘coup’ to oust Johnson within days of his 2019 election.There could be no better way of getting backbenchers to back their leader.  But if the PM continues to upset his troops by breaking his word, they may even start to think Cummings has a point. The right messaging matters to your own party as well as the public.Related...Dominic Cummings Says It's 'Perfectly Reasonable' To Think Brexit Was A MistakeKeir Starmer Expels Far-Left Jeremy Corbyn Supporters From LabourBoris Johnson Delays Social Care Plan Until Autumn After Key Ministers ‘Pinged’ For Covid
Hundreds of far Left supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will be expelled from Labour within days after its ruling body agreed to ban four groups accused of promoting a “toxic culture” within the party.The ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) decided on Tuesday to proscribe ‘Resist’ and ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt’, factions which both claim anti-Semitism allegations have been politically motivated.‘Labour In Exile’, which actively welcomes expelled or suspended members, was banned. Another group, ‘Socialist Appeal’, which describes itself as Marxist, was also proscribed.HuffPost UK understands that letters of “auto-exclusion”, informing members they have effectively expelled themselves by being members of any of the groups, will be sent by the end of this week.The NEC approved the proscription with a big majority, insiders said.Many of the members of the four factions were strong supporters of former leader Corbyn, who remains suspended from the party whip following his reaction to an equalities watchdog finding of institutional anti-Semitism.The NEC also agreed to set up a new panel which would look assess whether other fringe groups operating within the party should also be proscribed.The panel will be drawn from the Organisation Sub-Committee of the NEC, but insiders said that it would not operate as a “Star Chamber” because once it ruled which groups should be banned, expulsion was automatic.In one concession to critics, it was agreed that the full NEC would have to ratify any decisions by the “Org Sub” committee.As the lengthy NEC meeting took place, members of the far-Left groups and others - including Corbyn’s brother Piers - demonstrated outside Labour’s HQ in London.Grassroots group Momentum and Unite the union had both warned that the attempt to “purge” the groups was an act of “machismo” that was unnecessary.And former shadow chancellor John McDonnell had tweeted that it was a “standard Blairite” tactic to try and show how strong a leader Starmer was.Standard Blairite fare to try show how strong a leader you are by taking on your own party but bizarre to do it by expelling people, most of whom have left already. Looks desperate when what is needed is restoration of whip to Jeremy Corbyn, publication of Ford & taking on Tories— John McDonnell MP (@johnmcdonnellMP) July 17, 2021Corbyn too had expressed strong opposition to the plan.Today's proposals to the Labour NEC are divisive and raise the threat of further future attacks on party democracy.Now is the time when all of our energy should be concentrated against the Tories and in campaigning for people's health, jobs and livelihoods.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) July 20, 2021But one member of the NEC told HuffPost UK that the move was “morally important” because members of the groups had supported those who had been expelled for anti-Semitism.‘Socialist Appeal’ has also been described as an “entryist” group and some MPs believe its expulsion had echos of the booting out of Militant under Neil Kinnock in the 1980s.The margins of the proscription votes on the NEC underlined the strength of support Starmer now has on the ruling body, with two-to-one majorities for most of them.The narrowest vote was to ban ‘Socialist Appeal’, by a margin of 20 votes to 12.
Former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn under investigation following a complaint by his former Labour MP colleague Neil Coyle.
Keir Starmer will not resign as Labour leader if his party loses the Batley and Spen by-election.After days of speculation about his reaction to a possible Tory victory in the Labour-held West Yorkshire seat, his spokesman sent a clear signal that Starmer intends to tough out any defeat on Thursday.“Keir is not going to resign. Keir has been absolutely clear that this is a four year path to get back into power – and he is determined to lead the party into the next general election and to take us back into government,” the spokesperson said.“What the British people are worried about at the moment is their job, their kids, and the future of their country.”One Survation poll has put the Tories in first place in Batley, Labour in second and George Galloway in third.The spokesperson added that Labour’s Kim Leadbeater, who is the sister of the late Jo Cox who held the seat, was “a fantastic candidate”, but stressed the constituency “has always been a marginal seat”.“We know that we’ve got to prove ourselves to the people of Batley and Spen, and demonstrate we’re listening. We’ve never taken the people of Batley and Spen for granted.”Starmer succeeded Jeremy Corbyn in April 2020, winning the leadership by a landslide.But although he narrowed the gap with the Tories through the year, the party is now trailing regularly in national polls by more than 10 points.The spokesman said Starmer had an “absolute determination” to unite the Labour Party and form a government after the 2024 general election.Their remarks came as a new YouGov/SkyNews poll found that almost seven in ten Labour Party members believe that Andy Burnham would make a better leader than Starmer.Among sitting Labour MPs eligible to stand for the leadership, the poll found that Yvette Cooper would get the highest level of support.Some 35% of members said that the home affairs select committee chair would get their first preference.Lisa Nandy would win the support of 13%, while 12% said they would give deputy leader Angela Rayner their first preference. Former leadership challenger Rebecca Long-Bailey would get 11% and Richard Burgon 6%.Cooper, a former minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, was asked on Tuesday what the impact would be of a by-election loss on Starmer’s position. She told the BBC: “That’s a ultimately a discussion that we will have afterwards.”The YouGov poll found that 50% of Labour members in the north of England felt he should resign if the party loses the by-election, compared to 42% who said he should stay.This is a breaking news story and will be updated. Follow HuffPost UK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.Related...Can Keir Starmer Bounce Back From A Batley And Spen By-Election Loss?Jenny Chapman Leaves Job As Keir Starmer's Top AdviserBoris Johnson And Treasury 'Split' Over North's Biggest Rail Project
On the very day that Matt Hancock was fighting to save his political career in Westminster, Labour’s battle to hang onto one of its own parliamentary seats was being played out nearly 200 miles north in West Yorkshire.Amid ugly, unsettling scenes outside a mosque in Batley as worshippers left Friday prayers, the party’s candidate Kim Leadbeater was being harangued and chased by an anti-gay rights activist. The man, who had urged people to vote for George Galloway, was from Birmingham.Keir Starmer tweeted that the abuse Leadbeater faced was disgraceful and the best way to counter Galloway’s “poisonous politics” was to vote Labour in the Batley and Spen by-election next Thursday.But amid polls putting the Tories in first place, Galloway second and Leadbeater third, the incident proved that Starmer is still struggling with problems in his party’s backyard at precisely the moment when Boris Johnson’s government needs a robust opposition more than ever.And as much as Labour insiders mock Galloway’s grand claim that his entire campaign objective is to unseat Starmer as leader, there is now intense debate within the party about just what happens “after Batley”.Among the questions swirling on Labour MPs WhatsApps are these. Will Starmer finally use the result as a vital trigger for change? Or will he confirm to his critics that he simply lacks the raw politics needed to become prime minister? And either way, isn’t he running out of time ahead of a possible early election in 2023?The unease among both Labour backbenchers and frontbenchers has been palpable since May 6, when the party lost not just the symbolic by-election in Hartlepool but also lost councils and council seats in once-reliably Red areas in the north and midlands.Hartlepool was meant to be a wake-up call for the Labour leader, but some believe he’s instead just hit the snooze button, with a lack of grip that his critics say defines his leadership. Allies counter that in the past week some key figures have left their roles, not least political director Jenny Chapman, chief of staff Morgan McSweeney and communications director Ben Nunn.Despite worries about a damaging hiatus, none of their replacements are expected to be appointed before the Batley and Spen election. One insider said it was unclear whether the power vacuum was accidental or deliberate, but the new team will be able to credibly claim they are a break with the past.What is striking is that, unlike Hartlepool, almost everyone within the party appears to have written off Batley and Spen. Leadbeater, sister of former MP the late Jo Cox, is seen as a superb candidate, the only one born and bred in the seat. There has been a huge influx of party activists trying to help (in Hartlepool, the campaign office had one sheet of A2 paper for signed up volunteers, but Batley has a whole wall of them). Yet the mood is of grim fatalism.“Unlike in Hartlepool, there’s just seems to be an acceptance this time that we should believe what we’re seeing in Batley, which is if people are not talking to you and lifelong voters are saying they’re not going to vote for you, then you accept you’ve lost it,” one MP says.In what feels like a dry-run of the arguments to be deployed once the result comes in, some argue that Galloway’s candidacy actually creates the alibi that this is a very particular set of circumstances, and not a generic ‘Red Wall’ problem as with Hartlepool. One shadow cabinet minister says the white working class vote appears to be holding up in some places, but the Asian vote has been either tempted by Galloway or will stay at home.Some believe the by-election may have been lost for Labour the moment that Paul Halloran, the independent ‘Heavy Woollen District’ candidate who polled 6,000 votes in 2019, decided not to stand. His support is expected to almost all go to the Tories. Add in Galloway eating into Labour’s majority too, and it’s a lethal cocktail. “We’ve gone from their vote divided in 2019 to our vote divide now,” says one MP.Old hands also counsel another message likely to be heard after the count: that Batley has always been a marginal and not a safe seat, especially as the Tories held it from 1983 to 1997. Yet it’s precisely for that reason that some are complaining bitterly that defeat would be a self-inflicted wound.Former MP Tracy Brabin, who triggered the contest after her successful election as the new metro mayor for West Yorkshire, should never have been allowed to quit, several sources said. Unlike in Hartlepool where Teesside mayor Ben Houchen was an electoral asset, Brabin is not. “She was already seen as an absentee MP, and now she’s sodded off to Leeds, that’s how some of our voters see it,” one said.One former minister says: “We had a saying under Blair and Brown: ‘never inflict an unnecessary election on the voters’. Tracy got the nod from Corbyn to go for it, but Keir could have stopped it if people around him had spotted the danger.“What that really reflects is that Labour’s corporate memory is deteriorating, 11 years into opposition. Not knowing what you don’t know is the problem. And that’s more serious than people think. It’s not so much about judgement as experience.”Another MP adds: “So many MPs and members of the NEC said to her [Jenny Chapman] ‘Do not allow this. An MP is trading in their job for what they think will be a better job? Serve out your term and then leave’. She wasn’t alive to the catastrophe, just as she didn’t think we would lose Hartlepool.”“The vast majority of people on the doorstep quite like Kim, they tell us she’s a nice woman. But it’s Keir that they are unsure about. So Jenny’s genius has just resulted in a by election where Keir Starmer’s name is on the ballot. They’ve elevated the by-election to some fucking make or break thing.”One former Corbyn staffer said that it was “astonishing” that the loss of Batley was seen as inevitable. “No opposition leader has ever lost two by elections to the governing party. Jeremy had four defensive by-elections by the same point in his leadership and we won them all. You just think, my God, the double standards.”Already a “script” for what Starmer should say after a defeat is being worked on, some insiders say. No MP wants a repeat of the shell-shocked TV clip he gave after the Hartlepool loss. “He can’t just say ‘I’m listening’. He said that after Hartlepool. He has to say what he’s going to do about it,” one ally says.Several MPs and aides believe Starmer’s problems have been both organisational and political. The shake-up of the leader’s office operation has been welcomed by the parliamentary Labour party (PLP), as has the appointment of Shabana Mahmood as national campaign coordinator and Conor McGinn as her deputy.The pair this week instituted a daily 8am conference call (10am on Sundays, after Marr) with all frontbench advisers and the leader’s team. They run through what’s moving in the media and parliament and the party. Everyone is expected to arrive with ideas, but some policy advisers have been given a rude awakening, not least as McGinn’s blunt and direct style makes clear rapid improvements are needed.“We have to be relentless in the war of attrition against the government, hungrier than them, faster than them, more brutal than them,” one MP says. “Our mission every day should be to make some Tory somewhere wish they’d never been born today. Only after that can we get onto our highfalutin’ political strategy for winning a general election.”MPs hope the changes in organisation will ensure a smarter approach to both policy and communications. When Rachel Reeves made a presentation to the shadow cabinet in her new Treasury role, she mentioned the party’s current biggest spending pledge was £15n for schools catch-up funding. But for some around the shadow cabinet, that was the first they had even heard of the promise. “If we haven’t heard of it, how the hell do we expect the public to?” on MP said.The pledge from shadow education secretary Kate Green, based on demands from former catch-up czar Kevan Collins, barely registered when it was dropped on the media the day after the late May bank holiday. “We were like, OK, so we’ve done that then, great we have £15bn for schools, shame we didn’t know about it,” one frontbencher said.Some progress is being made, but it seems tortuous, some say. When the by-election team in Batley told the leader’s office that crime and anti-social behaviour was a big issue on the doorstep and they needed a big intervention from Starmer on it, his office reacted. In the end, it was decided Labour would scrap the Tory plan for a new Royal Yacht and spend the £200m on fighting anti-social behaviour instead.The policy, a way of ridiculing Johnson’s competence while saying crime was Labour’s priority, made the pages of the Daily Mail. “It was spiky and painting in primary colours,” one MP said. “But the amount of effort it takes to get to the point of a single thing like that is astonishing.“He’s detached from it because he only comes in at the end. It’s like you’re walking through treacle to make a small thing happen. Worse, there was no follow-up, it was just dropped into the pond and left.”But it’s the need for Starmer to inject some politics, not just managerial ability, into his leadership that is the most common demand. One insider says the problem of a lack of definition for the leader stems from his slick leadership campaign in early 2020.“They turned him into a bit of a blank sheet of paper onto which people could project what they wanted, left or right,” they say. “It was perfect for keeping everyone happy. But when you face the electorate, you have to pick some fights to let people know what you stand for.”One MP says that Starmer needs a sense of urgency above everything. “There’s a hesitancy that he has, which he’s got to get rid of. His team tie themselves in knots, they worry a lot about whether something is the right ‘fit’ for different audiences. We just want him to make an emotional connection with the voters. People want him to show leadership, say in his own words what he thinks. That will go a long way.“He still doesn’t understand the difference between a court of law and the court of public opinion and hasn’t made the emotional leap from one to the other. In a court of law, you say something once, that’s it. But with public opinion, you have to say it seven million times before even half of it is heard.”A senior backbencher says the problem has been a lack of equals in his office. “He doesn’t have a peer to peer relationship with someone with the authority to just go and say ‘right, get your shit together, you need to do this right now’.”“The ones who have been close to him were in awe of him, they do think he’s amazing, that he’s intellectually their superior, and that’s not a challenge to his brain. It’s not like Blair with Jonathan Powell or Campbell and Mandelson, or Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.”One former minister says: “I don’t doubt his determination, and his ability. There’s a more fundamental problem: does he know what work he has to do? Does he know what he doesn’t know? He’s got the necessary ruthless streak, but has he got the judgment to know when to deploy it?”Others believe that while the right staff in his office is crucial, it’s ultimately down to Starmer to lead and to define himself and his party. “Part of the problem is he seems to think that you just need to hire the right person and somehow they’ll make him a future prime minister. He doesn’t seem to understand most of that is down to him. They need to know what his gut is telling him.“He will acknowledge you’re basically right, nod, and then somehow he just doesn’t make it happen. And no one can understand what the hell that’s about. Some people are more despairing than others, it’s like ‘just make a fucking decision, man’.If Batley is indeed lost, Starmer will indeed have to make some decisions. Several figures on different wings of the party believe his leadership will inevitably come under question. “The big question is what the tone will be after Batley,” says one. “If it is apologetic or introspective or anything like that, I think the clock’s ticking.“He needs to come out swinging on this somehow. We can’t keep reacting to failure, explaining why we’ve lost. There needs to be a moment where we’re going to tell people how we win. And if we can’t do that now after 14 months of his leadership, I don’t know when we’re going to start. How he comes out of this now is going to shape whether Keir buys himself six months or 24 months.”Under party rules, more than 40 MPs are needed to trigger any leadership challenge. Over the past week, there has been chatter among backbenchers that Dawn Butler was being lined up as a candidate who could get the backing of the 34-strong Socialist Campaign Group, as well as some disaffected Black and Asian MPs.The idea of some instant Butler challenge the day after Batley has been dismissed, not least by the Left. But perhaps more worrying for Starmer is the level of grumbling around those who have been desperate to make his leadership work. “Some people are thinking, can this ever work and have become very down about it,” one MP said.“They’re the people he needs to impress when he addresses the PLP after the defeat. He will have to move quite fast, have a really good summer and a really good conference.” One senior party figure says a leadership challenge from the Left would be defeated easily by 80% to 20%. “It could provide a sort of reset moment, in the way that the best thing that ever happened to Corbyn was MPs challenging him in 2016,” they say.With disloyalty a toxic charge, Starmer allies are also confident that neither Lisa Nandy nor Angela Rayner would want to ruin any future leadership hopes of their own by exploiting any “stalking horse” challenge by the Left.Others believe a challenge would be a huge distraction and the focus should be on connecting with the public this summer, not Labour members. Starmer’s team have long planned a summer of meet-the-people events, and have been itching for Covid restrictions to lift to make the strategy workable.Starmer tested the water in Ipswich last week, meeting business leaders. While the Commons is still sitting until late July, the plan is for him to every Wednesday travel to a key seat, meet families in a pub or restaurant, then spend the next day in a workplace canteen or old people’s lunch club. Once parliament rises, he would do Q&A sessions regularly too with voters.But one Tory minister says the Batley by-election is proving that Starmer is the Tories’ biggest asset. “His problem is, he fails the pub test,” the minister says. “With Tony Blair and with Boris, whether you’re working class or whether you are posh, you could imagine them having a conversation with you, and that they enjoy the job. Starmer’s a bit like Gordon Brown or Theresa, they looked haggard, tired, grumpy, uncomfortable. Worst of all, he looks a bit aloof.”A senior Starmer ally hits back: “Well, the pubs aren’t bloody fully open so it’s a bit hard for him to pass or fail a pub test. That’s exactly why we think that once he’s out and about, people will see the real Keir and like what they see. The [Piers Morgan] ‘Life Stories’ [where Starmer talked about his family life and upbringing] was just the start.”Another shadow cabinet source says: “The biggest thing he’s got going for him is that the majority of people in the majority of pubs don’t know who he is. There is still a huge chunk of the population that hasn’t made up their mind about Keir. That’s either because he’s been so hidden away or there’s been a sort of blandness that they don’t have anything to make their mind up about.”Some MPs are more sceptical. One warns that a ‘listening tour’ won’t work and that what’s needed is a ‘telling tour’, telling the voters what he stands for. “He’s going to use the summer tour as a reboot of his leadership, his own brand and the party’s brand,” they say.“It’s not the worst idea in the world but it won’t work if it’s just a bit nicey, nicey and doesn’t change the dial on what people’s fears of the Labour Party are, which is that we are the soft guys of British politics, we say yes to everyone and everything.”There will be a summer campaign on workers’ rights, but some Starmer allies believe that a focus on crime and anti-social behaviour is the best way of uniting Labour’s fractured voting coalition of working class and middle class voters.The issue has cropped up repeatedly in Hartlepool and Batley and the May 6 elections and aides think Starmer’s unique background as a former Director of Public Prosecutions ought to be deployed. “This is a guy who effectively locked up serious criminals and terrorists, but few of the public know that.” one insider says. “We’ve got to tell them.”Any summer tour may or may not register on the voters’ radar, but the party conference in Brighton in September is seen as Starmer’s first real chance to properly grab the public’s attention. Efforts to ram home that the Corbyn era really is over may depend on what one NEC member refers to as “the most important set of elections and no one’s ever heard of”.These are local constituency party delegate elections, the deadline for which is July 9. Some 40% of local parties will be holding Zoom meetings to pick the delegates who vote at the annual conference. Allied with more centrist trade union leaderships, the hope is that internal reforms or policy changes will be much easier.Some centrists believe that Starmer’s best hope of proving his party has changed would be to tear up its member-led leadership rules and return to an electoral college that restored MPs alongside unions and members. MPs represent millions of voters, whereas party members represent only themselves, allies say. The Left would be sure to react with fury.It’s too late to mobilise such a radical reform for this autumn, and it may need Unite the union to elect centrist Gerard Coyne to have a chance. But there is chatter of a special conference next spring to carry it out.Although Starmer likes to talk about tackling anti-Semitism as defining his leadership, some MPs believe the public either don’t know or or uninterested in the issue. A big bang change to water down members’ hold over the party leader would be more bold.There are however downsides, as one senior aide points out. “It’s a terrible dilemma. One of the big, most essential ways that Keir has to define himself is by changing the leadership rules to ensure that this great party never goes back to being run by cranks. But the problem he’s got is as soon as he does that is he could face a challenge from the Right or competent centre. It’s a total Catch-22.“Everyone recognises that that if you remove the threat from the Left, it gives you the chance to govern. At the same time, it makes you massively vulnerable because suddenly people can challenge you without worrying about Richard Burgon ending up in charge.”The main focus for Starmer will be his conference speech and themes. “Conference is absolutely crucial now,” a shadow cabinet minister says. “He needs to set out what he believes in, what he’s doing, his priorities for being Prime Minister, set out in an ambitious, bold, enthusiastic, passionate way in front of a live audience.”One MP says: “He needs some drama, a big moment to show what he stands for. He can show leadership by saying there are some people in my party who believe things the country will never accept and I’m going to take them on. The country will understand that.”Some believe he could grab the public’s attention with a policy pledge, just as the Cameron-Osborne inheritance tax cut in 2007 gave the Tories definition, turning round months of poor poll ratings (which are now forgotten) and scaring Gordon Brown into postponing the election. “It wasn’t the policy itself, it was that they were actually saying what they stood for,” one aide says.The key has got to be both a clean break with Corbyn and a positive vision of Britain, one frontbencher says. “Nobody I talk to tells me you know what ‘Labour has changed too much’. And when I ask Tory MPs privately what they fear most, they say it’s if we got rid of the loonies” they say.“If we lose in Batley, and the expectation very much is we will, we have to get the PLP and the wider party to accept that without a big change things could get even worse than 2019, despite that election being absolutely catastrophic for us.“It’s a huge achievement that for the first time since Tony Blair we have a leader who passes the prime minister test. But the toxicity that there still is around the brand and the damage that has been done, it’s not going to be solved just by a guy who looks like he could stand outside Number 10, it’s got to be much more fundamental.”One senior party figure says Starmer still has the chance to have a fresh start. “It’s not about losing this or that by-election, that’s just a welcome to the real world of irrelevant opposition. The big sense he thinks he could lead through the power of his great intellect, that’s not gonna happen.“He’s basically got to accommodate Corbynism, or move on from Corbynism. And he’s got from Batley to conference to decide what he does on that or signal what he does on that.”And a frontbencher puts it even more simply: “We just need to stop acting like a vehicle or a client agency for campaigns and stakeholder groups. We need to speak like our voters, think like our voters, about how they get up every day and just want to make ends meet, to let their kids get on in life. We just need to be, you know, normal.”One senior MP worries that Starmer’s real problem is that he only entered politics because he wanted to be prime minister, and now that looks a distant possibility. “I think he’s had a loss of confidence post-May. He looked like a man in shock, and he’s not quite recovered. He’s got on in life by being self-sufficient and betting on himself, so why is he not now betting on himself?“Is the crisis of confidence really because he thought he was going to be Blair and maybe now the best he can hope for is being Kinnock? Maybe. But he needs to realise that’s OK, that’s a great life story, ‘I saved the Labour Party’ is a historic thing in the national interest. Maybe he thinks that’s a bit beneath him. If I was close enough to him I would tell him there is such honour in that, in dragging us closer to power.”One former minister warns that with possible by-elections in Tory-held Delyn and Wakefield, there’s a chance to counter the Hartlepools and Batleys. “If after Batley, he comes out fighting I think the PLP will say at last he’s listened, better late than never, and there’s no alternative, let’s give him more time. It’s basically a case of using the summer and conference properly. But if things are still like this next May, I think he really is in trouble.”
Keir Starmer could face a leadership challenge if he loses the Batley and Spen by-election to the Conservatives, Labour MPs have told Insider.
Labour’s deputy leader has said an investigation will be launched into who made a “completely unacceptable” claim anti-Semitism among Muslim voters was costing the party votes.The Mail on Sunday quoted a “senior Labour official” as having said Labour was “haemorrhaging votes among Muslim voters” in the run-up to the Batley and Spen by-election on July 1.“The reason for that is what Keir [Starmer] has been doing on anti-Semitism.” the source told the newspaper.“Nobody really wants to talk about it, but that’s the main factor. He challenged [Jeremy] Corbyn on it, and there’s been a backlash among certain sections of the community.”Angela Rayner said in response: “I want to make clear publicly that these comments that are being attributed to a member of Labour Party staff in a newspaper today are not a Labour Party response or statement, are completely unacceptable and are not condoned or sanctioned in any way by the party.“Anybody who has made these comments should and will be dealt with in line with our independent disciplinary procedures, which I have no role in as deputy leader.”The Labour Muslim Network also condemned the “patently vile, Islamophobic briefing”.“This racism needs to be challenged urgently and publicly by the Labour leadership and the party as a whole,” the group said.“There can be no hiding behind the anonymity of the source and briefing.”Related...Matt Hancock 'Isn’t Useless At All', Says Justice Secretary Robert BucklandJohn Bercow Denies He Joined Labour To Get House Of Lords Seat
John Bercow has denied discussing the prospect of a peerage with Sir Keir Starmer after the former Commons speaker and Tory MP defected to the Labour Party.Bercow said on Sunday there has been “no barter, no trade, no deal whatsoever” after launching an attack on the Conservatives under Boris Johnson as he switched sides.During his 10 years in the speaker’s chair, Bercow made numerous enemies among Tory Brexit-supporting MPs due to a series of decisions perceived as favouring the Remain camp.The Tories also enraged Bercow by breaking with long-standing convention to elevate a retiring speaker to the House of Lords, amid allegations that he bullied parliamentary staff, which he has always denied.Critics linked Bercow’s defection to an alleged plot to win a fresh nomination for a peerage from the current Labour leader.But Bercow told Sky’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “I’ve had absolutely no discussion whatsoever, either with Keir Starmer or any other member of the Labour leadership about that matter.“There has been no barter, no trade, no deal whatsoever.“And if I may very politely say so, and I do, the people who make what they think is that potent and coruscating criticism of me are operating according to their own rather low standards.”Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen is among those who has alleged Bercow was operating a “cynical” and “cunning” plan to be nominated as a Labour peer.Asked what he would do if the Labour leader rang him and offered him a peerage Bercow said: “It isn’t in my mind, it’s not part of the game plan, I haven’t discussed it, I’m not waiting for it. What I’m motivated by is a commitment to equality, social justice and internationalism.”Last year, Bercow claimed there was a “conspiracy” to stop him getting a peerage.Labour under Jeremy Corbyn nominated him for elevation after the Tories declined to do so, but he is yet to reach the House of Lords.Bercow served as a Tory MP for 12 years until he was elected speaker in 2009. He left the speaker’s chair and the Commons in 2019.In announcing he had joined Labour in recent weeks, he said he regards the Conservatives under the prime minister’s leadership as “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic”.“The conclusion I have reached is that this government needs to be replaced. The reality is that the Labour Party is the only vehicle that can achieve that objective. There is no other credible option,” he told the Observer.Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said Bercow had diminished his influence by coming out in support of Labour and said he “totally” disagrees with his characterisation of the Tories.The cabinet minister told Sky’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “I think as a former speaker he’s somebody that even though he’s left office does carry a degree of authority like his predecessors and I think his predecessors’ authority was enhanced by their refusal to go back into party politics.“But I think him joining a political party actually has the effect of diminishing the force of his voice in politics, however strong he wants it to be.”Bercow insisted his switch to Labour is “not personal against” Johnson and said it was “something that changed in me”, adding: “I identify with Labour values, Labour principles, Labour policies.”Related...Does Chesham And Amersham Show The Political Tectonic Plates Are Shifting?PM’s Planning Reforms In ‘Tatters’ After By-Election Defeat, Tory Rebel SaysTories’ Culture War Going Down Like A ‘Lead Balloon’ In ‘Blue Wall’
On the day of the Chesham and Amersham by-election on Thursday, one voter couldn’t quite believe just who was captured on the video on their ‘Ring’ doorbell. Theresa May, the former prime minister, was door-knocking in a last-ditch attempt to get the vote out. It looked desperate and it was.In fact, May was already well known to the electorate precisely because her face had been plastered all over election leaflets. But she wasn’t on Tory campaign material, she was quoted on Lib Dem leaflets for her opposition to the planning reforms proposed by Boris Johnson. This was a 2021 redux of the 2017 classic, ‘the Maybot wot lost it’, but in a very different way.It was those controversial planning reforms to build more homes without local consent, plus a vehement opposition to the HS2 rail line (embodied by building works currently causing road chaos in the seat), that created an overall narrative that the Conservatives were going to rip up the Chilterns countryside.Add in the much bigger picture of Johnson’s constant focus on the ‘red wall’ of northern seats and the Lib Dems’ spectacular success was in sending a message that this seat was sick of being “taken for granted”. In that sense, and perhaps the only sense, the Home Counties upset mirrored Labour’s Hartlepool defeat a few weeks ago.So in many ways, there were almost textbook conditions for a Lib Dem by-election upset. The seat was so close to London, a mere Metropolitan Line tube ride away, the party could easily flood it with activists. In HS2 and planning, there were two perfectly local issues to exploit. Crucially, this was also a classic sleeper operation, a LibDem ‘quiet revolt’ with the party deliberately not shouting about its progress to avoid alerting the sleepy Tories.All the old tricks were deployed too. One Labour figure whose mother lives in the seat confided she’d told him how nice it was the Lib Dem candidate had actually sent her a personal, hand-written letter (even though it was pro-forma, and cleverly printed to look hand-written). Getting a candidate in place early, hiding the party’s national support for HS2, all worked.Moreover, the Tory campaign was as inept as the Lib Dems’ was impressive. One Tory MP told me how the party had been far too slow to get a candidate, had produced ‘insipid’ leaflets (“Where was the image of the PM getting his vaccine jab? Nowhere.”) and crazily focused on swing voters rather than its core vote. Despite May’s last minute doorknocks, I was told the Tories didn’t even have tellers at polling stations for large parts of the day.As one shrewd Lib Dem old hand told me, the genius of the party’s campaign was it managed to both attract the younger more liberal voters forced out of London by expensive house prices AND the older NIMBYs who don’t want the extra housing needed to support even more of these newcomers.And while this was in many ways a classic, localised by-election win, the Lib Dems are hoping that they can capitalise more broadly in the south. It’s certainly true that anger over planning was a factor in the party capturing other seats in the local elections (there were literal ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ vote shifts over the issue in May)But are the tectonic plates of our politics shifting? Well, the demographic shifts of an influx of younger, graduate class to Tory seats are reflected in other seats across the south. Some in Labour firmly believe that while they should shout more about successes in places like Peterborough, West of England and Worthing in May, the fact is in parliamentary seats it’s the Lib Dems who can capitalise most.As one Labour insider put it to me, the long term trends are good but in the short term the number of marginal winnable seats for 2023/4 in the north and midlands far outweigh the potential gains of the odd upset like Canterbury. Others in the party see it as a comforting fantasy to believe that a hipster coffee shop appearing in a Tory town somehow signals a revolution.Labour polled its lowest ever vote share of any by-election, with just 1.6% of the vote, but those around Keir Starmer were utterly relaxed, seeing that as the inevitable squeeze of tactical voting (it’s worth pointing out that under Corbyn, Richmond Park saw a lower vote score for Labour than membership of the local Labour party, precisely because voting Lib Dem removes a Tory).“Keir didn’t go to Amersham and Chesham, we didn’t pour resources into it. We absolutely stepped back, actively said we are not keen to engage in this. So we stepped back and allowed that squeeze message to work,” one source said. If the party does the same at the next general election in seats where the Libs are the main challenger, it would simply be repeating the Blair-Ashdown tactics of 1997.For some around Starmer, the big, tantalising prize after Chesham is that it shows not only are voters less tied than ever to party loyalty but also that the Tories can be routed if Labour isn’t seen by southern voters as a threatening presence in No.10.I remember joining Johnson on the campaign trail in south west London in 2015 and he correctly predicted the anti-Lib Dem landslides in seats like Ed Davey’s and Vince Cable’s, partly because of a fear that Ed Miliband would ally with Alex Salmond.Older Lib Dem-Tory switchers are at heart liberal conservatives but they are still conservatives. As academic Paula Surridge points out today, Tory Remain voters had a tremendously low opinion of Jeremy Corbyn.Some Starmer supporters believe that’s the main reason he can never allow  himself to be depicted as ‘Miliband-lite’, let alone ‘Corbyn-lite’. He may currently have major problems with clarity for what he stands for (which have to be solved), but Starmer’s huge asset to date has been that he doesn’t scare those southern horses.Johnson’s two biggest problems are complacency and confusion. Today, he appeared in west Yorkshire, clearly having anticipated a cakewalk victory in Chesham that he could use to help him in Batley and Spen. The date of the Batley by-election, July 1, was clearly also designed to be a victory lap after June 21’s unlocking. So much for complacency.As for confusion, the PM today also started talking once more about uniting and levelling up because “that’s what One nation Conservatism is all about”. That unity message was certainly his line the morning after the 2019 election, but within days he squandered it with endless culture wars on the BBC, political reporters, the judiciary, even cuts to overseas aid.One Nationism has instead been replaced by Two Nationism, and his messages to the ‘red wall’ have often conflicted with ‘blue wall’ values. It’s not just Labour that has difficulty keeping a working class and middle class voter coalition together.Batley (which I’ll write more about soon) is a very different seat from Chesham. Still, some Tories think one read-across is they chose their candidate too late and are still failing to target the right voters. Starmer has a brilliantly local candidate, but faces ‘headwinds’ still from the vaccine rollout and George Galloway’s targeting Asian voters. The biggest lesson for both Starmer and Johnson is that it’s only by trying to unify the country, not split it into different groups or regions or coloured walls, that politicians can win big majorities. In a first past the post election system, that remains more important than demographic shifts or tweaks to campaigns. Oh, and never take your base for granted.Related...PM’s Planning Reforms In ‘Tatters’ After By-Election Defeat, Tory Rebel SaysLib Dems Score Stunning 'Blue Wall' By-Election Victory Over Boris Johnson'Tories’ Culture War Going Down Like A ‘Lead Balloon’ In ‘Blue Wall’
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.This was meant to be a quiet week. Commons in recess, a ‘holding pattern’ on Covid, Whitehall treading water while it waits for the latest data on the pandemic. Aside from an update on foreign travel from Grant Shapps on Thursday, the big ‘event’ marked on the No.10 grid was today’s catch-up cash for schools. An emergency £1.4bn, on top of an extra £1.7bn already announced for pupils, could have been spun as a statement of intent, an interim measure pending a bigger funding settlement in the chancellor’s spending review later this year. But thanks to some great work by the Times, which exclusively revealed earlier this week just how much cash had been requested, the PR plan was smashed to bits.Sir Kevan Collins, the catch-up czar, had wanted £15bn but instead got less than a tenth of that, at least in the short term. And his resignation words tonight blasted both barrels not just at the hapless Gavin Williamson (whose departure from Education in a reshuffle seems all but guaranteed), but also at Boris Johnson himself.By referring explicitly to the failure to provide help to pupils in deprived areas in the north, Collins appeared to expose the PM’s “levelling up” agenda as a hollow trick played on all those who voted Tory in May. “In parts of the country where schools were closed for longer, such as the north, the impact of low skills on productivity is likely to be particularly severe,” he said.It’s worth remembering that Collins was never going to be a government pushover. He is widely respected for his work in education, and as recently as March he told the education select committee that the £1.7bn first pledged was “not sufficient”. He wanted a comprehensive recovery plan, not a sticking plaster, so it’s perhaps no surprise he’s ripped it off to lay bare the wounds underneath.This isn’t just about the education gap. For Johnson, this underlines once more the yawning gap between his rhetoric and actual delivery. Back in June 2020, he promised “a massive summer catch-up operation”, but nothing of the kind materialised. Yes, the fresh lockdowns knocked things even more off course, yet parents, pupils and teachers won’t easily forget the promises made.This March, I remember vividly Johnson telling a No.10 news conference how much catch-up mattered. “The legacy issue I think for me is education,” he said. “It’s the loss of learning for so many children and young people that’s the thing we’ve got to focus on now as a society. And I think it is an opportunity to make amends.” If the PM can’t deliver on his own professed personal priority coming out of the pandemic, what chance do all the other policy areas have?Critics will point out too that unlike other areas of government (social care, anyone?), there is at least a plan worked up by Collins to “make amends”. His bigger package was about extra teaching time, not just tutoring. Still, there are some in government who tonight are pointing out the idea of an extra half hour on the school day did not go down well with teachers.The longer day was “not thought through” and not “evidence based”, both of which are red flags to the Treasury. Moreover, doling out £15bn – half the annual primary and pre-primary school budget – between spending reviews was seen as imprudence fiscal management. Allies of the chancellor insist this isn’t about being stingy. “If we just start signing off massive cheques outside of a formal process, there lies mismanagement of taxpayers’ money!” one says.Yet ultimately the PM is, as he joked in recent months, the First Lord of the Treasury. If he’d really wanted a big, bold plan for education catch-up with big, bold spending to match, he could have got it. The political problem is that an independent expert in schooling has now delivered a damning verdict on Johnson’s central “levelling up” policy, or rather the lack of oneCollins has also made early years education his priority, stressing its social as well as academic benefit, and its underfunding in recent years. The Tories’ closure of SureStarts is perhaps one of their biggest policy errors in the past decade of austerity. Amazingly, Labour has failed to ram home that very point, and has shown a woeful lack of focus on childcare and early years (evidenced by Jeremy Corbyn’s priority of student tuition fees, but under Starmer there’s been no real grabbing of the agenda either).A cynic might say that the expected grade inflation in this year’s GCSE and A-level exam results will smooth over the problem. But if metrics emerge that younger children of all backgrounds are falling behind expected benchmarks, the lack of a proper “catch-up” or “recovery” plan will be received bitterly by parents who struggled with the home-schooling imposed on them this past year.It’s possible Johnson will again wriggle out of this latest tight spot. But remember that two of the biggest U-turns forced on him over the past year both involved education: the A-levels fiasco and free school meals. And both were issues of competence.Collins’ resignation may have gifted Starmer his most powerful weapon yet, offering at the next election a simple way to sum up broken Tory promises and incompetence. Whether Labour can capitalise is another matter.Related...Schools Catch-Up Tsar Quits Saying Gavin Williamson 'Failing' ChildrenBoris Johnson's £1.4bn Schools Catch-Up Fund Branded 'Paltry' And 'Disappointing'Is Lockdown Over? When We’ll Know If Covid Rules Are Changing
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening. 1 No.10 was a Covid chaos zoneThe whole point of Dominic Cummings’ evidence was to provide the first draft of the history of the government’s handling of the pandemic. While his personal opinions on what went wrong can be dismissed, his eye-witness testimony cannot be easily shrugged off. And on that score, he didn’t disappoint, giving vivid accounts of the chaos in Downing Street as Covid hit landfall in March 2020.His description of the events of over two key days allowed the public a glimpse of just how Boris Johnson runs, or doesn’t run, his government. On the “insane day” of March 12, while the PM clearly had no choice but to deal with Trump’s plea to join a bombing raid on Iraq, Cummings implied that his boss allowed partner Carrie Symonds’ to waste valuable press office time with complaints about a story about their dog Dilyn.But it was the following day that was more telling and more worrying. First, a senior department of health official confided there was no plan for a pandemic. Then deputy cabinet secretary Helen McNamara allegedly said “I think we are absolutely fucked, I think this country is heading for a disaster. I think we are going to kill thousands of people.” Those words are sure to be pored over in any public inquiry.Just as concerning was the picture painted by Cummings of the lack of data available, with him having to scribble on a whiteboard and an iPad a rough model of how many hospitalisations were happening, based on snippets of early info from NHS chief Simon Stevens. So too was the revelation that the Cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill so misunderstood Covid that he suggested the PM go on TV to tell people to have ‘chickenpox parties’. 2 Hancock was to blame for virtually everythingIn what felt like a Whitehall version of the Assassin’s Creed video game, Cummings spent a lot of his time trying to eviscerate Matt Hancock’s reputation. The allegations were hugely serious, from lying about PPE stocks and testing in care homes to his decision to announce a 100,000 daily test target while the PM was “on his deathbed”. Yet the relentless nature of the onslaught (who cares how many times Cummings called for him to be sacked?) tipped from public interest to private vendetta.What also furthered the impression that this was about personalities was his huge praise for Rishi Sunak and Dominic Raab (who both happened to be Brexiteers, while Hancock was a Remainer). Cummings’ curious memory loss about discussions of the EatOutToHelpOut scheme, plus his failure to criticise any decisions by old boss Michael Gove, suggested chairman Greg Clark was right when he asked if this was about ‘settling scores’.Cummings also failed to fully credit Hancock for his strong push for a second lockdown in the autumn, while at the same time playing down the chancellor’s concerns about the idea. The lens was so skewed that he even said Sunak’s real worry was that the department of health could impose a circuit breaker but had no plan for what happened next. Most curiously, for a man who blogged at length about systems and processes, his real focus was on the central role of “brilliant” individuals, be they officials or ministers. 3 Boris Johnson was off his trolleyThe vituperative attacks on Hancock felt like a sideshow compared to Cummings’ cold, matter of fact descriptions of Boris Johnson as being “unfit” to be prime minister. This was the PM’s former chief adviser saying he was never really upto the job, but he was at least better than Jeremy Corbyn. Johnson changed his mind so much, on everything from Covid to free school meals, that he looked “just like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other.” Sunak was at his wits end about the trolley too, we learned.Funnily enough the trolley analogy was first used by former Cameron spinner Craig Oliver to describe how Johnson wrote two different Telegraph columns for and against Brexit. But Cummings’s more damning charge was that the PM was fundamentally unserious about Covid policy. Perhaps his most telling line was this: “There is a great misunderstanding people have, that because it [Covid] nearly killed him, therefore he must have taken it seriously.” Narrator: he didn’t.We heard of Johnson’s talk of injecting himself with Covid on live TV, his regret that he didn’t behave like the Mayor in Jaws and keep the beaches/shops/pubs open, his glib lines about letting ‘the bodies pile high’ and that the virus was “only killing 80-year-olds” (a charge pointedly not denied in PMQs). All felt like jokes that curdled quickly into a cold contempt for the very public he was meant to serve.Add the claim Johnson “changes his mind 10 times a day” and disappears on holiday at key moments, and that’s a withering verdict on any politician, let alone a PM in a pandemic. No Wonder Johnson looked distinctly rattled when Keir Starmer quoted Cummings central admission: “When the public needed us most, the government failed”. 4 Cummings sounded as unserious as JohnsonHaving learned from his Rose Garden press conference disaster, Cummings at least tried to open with an apology for his failures, including not hitting the “panic button” for lockdown earlier. Yet it felt like a strange humblebrag, that somehow he was a genius who spotted the problem but failed to convey that genius. It reminded me of the job interviewees who say their only flaw is that they are a perfectionist.In a similar vein, his line that it was ”completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position...I’m not smart” was a laughable attempt at self-effacement. In the next breath he expressed frustration that he wasn’t running the country instead of the elected PM, saying he tried to “create a structure around push things through against his wishes”. Yet this was a man who stuck to his ludicrous specsavers defence for his trip to Barnard Castle.Cummings’ line that Covid needed a “kind of dictator”, a scientist with “kingly authority”, just also proved how unserious he really is. So too were his references to Spider-Man memes and the film Independence Day (which the bereaved families group felt belittled the gravity of their loss). When he kept saying he felt like he was in a movie, he came across someone as woefully out of his depth as the boss he ridiculed. Asked if he too was unfit for No.10, he just sidestepped the question like a politician. And his charge that it was “crackers” that Johnson was in power suffered from the slight problem of his enthusiastic work to keep him there. 5 Governing properly is really hard, isn’t it?The lessons learned about Cummings’ own character were possibly just as telling as lessons learned about the pandemic. His own credibility as a witness may already be fatally undermined by his Durham drive. But his testimony had some clear contradictions too. Criticising Carrie Symonds’ “unethical” interference in No.10 appointments may have provoked a hollow laugh from Sonia Khan, whom he had frogmarched by a policeman out of Downing Street without due process.Most of all, when the crunch came, this would-be iconoclast, the arch-disrupter also revealed a telling lack of nerve in the real world: he revealed he didn’t push for lockdown earlier because he was “frightened” he would get it wrong. That in itself was a rare admission that running a government really is very different from running a referendum campaign. The stakes are all too real.Cummings’ most serious charge was left for the latter part of his nearly seven hours testimony: “Tens of thousands of people died, who didn’t need to die.” The irony is that Johnson seems to have finally learned the lesson of hard lockdowns and slow releases only since January – after his chief adviser left office. Cummings today got his blame game retaliation in first ahead of the public inquiry. As the PM copes with the new Indian variant, his best answer to the criticism would be to get the current unlockdown right.Related...8 News Stories You May Have Missed Because Of Dominic CummingsThe 14 Most Explosive Claims From Dominic Cummings’ Covid EvidenceBoris Johnson Does Not Deny Saying Covid Was 'Only Killing 80-Year-Olds'
Boris Johnson has been left licking his wounds after Dominic Cummings dropped bombshell upon bombshell on the prime minister over his handling of Covid. The former aide sent shockwaves through Westminster at his long-awaited Commons committee hearing, in which he called for health secretary Matt Hancock to be sacked over alleged lies and said the PM was “unfit” for office. In a frankly bizarre turn, the PM’s ex-adviser also claimed that in the early days of the pandemic, Johnson boasted he would have Covid injected into him live on television by chief medical officer Chris Whitty. Amidst all this, you may have missed some other important news.Let’s get you caught up with some of today’s other headlines.  1, The Hillsborough trial collapsed Two retired police officers and an ex-solicitor accused of altering police statements after the Hillsborough disaster have been acquitted. The trial against Donald Denton, 83, retired detective chief inspector Alan Foster, 74, and solicitor Peter Metcalf, 71, collapsed on Wednesday after a judge ruled there was no case to answer. The three men denied charges of perverting the course of justice after it was alleged they tried to minimise the blame on South Yorkshire Police.Mr Justice William Davis said the amended statements were intended for a public inquiry into safety at sports grounds, however, and that as such it was not a course of public justice.Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of the crush at the FA Cup semi-final match at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground on 15 April 1989.Margaret Aspinall, whose son James was among them, said the ruling was “an absolute mockery” and a “shambles”.“We’re always the losers no matter what the outcome today,” she said. 2, Raab met Israeli and Palestinian leaders for peace talksPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met this afternoon, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, with British Foreign Secretary @DominicRaab.PM Netanyahu: "It's good to see you again in better times and we'll work together to make them even better. "— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) May 26, 2021Dominic Raab met with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as he reiterated the UK supports a two-state solution in the Israel-Gaza conflict. The foreign secretary called for a “lasting peace” on Wednesday and visited both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories following last week’s ceasefire.The ceasefire was declared on Friday after 11 days of fighting killed more than 250 people, the vast majority in Gaza, in what was the worst violence in the conflict since 2014. Raab tweeted: “Vital we make progress towards a more positive future for Israelis and Palestinians.” 3, Five arrested after Black Lives Matter activist shotFive men have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder over the shooting of black equal rights activist Sasha Johnson.The 27-year-old Oxford graduate is fighting for her life in hospital after being injured at a party in Peckham, south-east London in the early hours of Sunday.The Metropolitan Police said that officers detained three teenagers and two older men on suspicion of other offences, before they were all also arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.The first suspect, a 17-year-old boy, was held on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon and drug dealing on Tuesday afternoon.Police then raided an address in Peckham where they arrested three men – aged 18, 19 and 28 – on suspicion of affray and possession with intent to supply class B drugs.A fifth man, aged 25, was arrested later that evening following a car chase, also in Peckham, on suspicion of affray and failing to stop for police.All five have also since been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. 4, Disgraced MP Rob Roberts avoids by-election Disgraced MP Rob Roberts may escape a by-election despite breaching sexual misconduct rules. The MP for Delyn faces being suspended from the Commons for six weeks after repeated unwanted advances to a member of staff during which asked him to be “less alluring”. Roberts has been stripped of the Tory whip but the way recall laws are drawn up means he cannot face the prospect of losing his seat.The sanction was proposed by the panel set up in 2020 to deal with cases raised under the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.But the Recall of Parliament Act was passed in 2015 and only allows the prospect of a by-election for sanctions imposed on the recommendation of the Commons Committee on Standards.House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg will invite the “relevant bodies” to consider whether the laws need to be changed to enable the recall process to be triggered.MPs need to approve the six-week suspension. 5, SNP in talks with Scottish Greens over ‘formal’ government Nicola Sturgeon has revealed her SNP government is in talks with the Scottish Greens over a formal co-operation agreement. The first minister has said that by working together the two parties “can help build a better future for Scotland” as she set out her priorities following the SNP victory in the Holyrood election earlier this month.She stressed discussions between the two parties – which are being supported by the civil service – will continue over the coming weeks, and said it is “not inconceivable” that they could see Green MSPs joining the SNP in the Scottish Government.Both parties support the case for Scottish independence.  6, ‘Super mutant’ virus fearsCoronavirus is going to do “weird” things going forward, and “super mutant viruses” may emerge, an expert has warned.Professor Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said that while this would not necessarily be a bad thing, the virus would try to become more efficient at transmission as more people are protected.He added that coronavirus is unpredictable and we should not be overconfident at any stage.Asked about how to prepare for future variants, Gupta told a press briefing: “I think that we have good vaccines, now we need to keep the pressure on vaccine designers, manufacturers to adapt vaccines.” He added: “Secondly, the virus is going to do some weird things. I mean, this is just the beginning.“I think it’s going to recombine, you’re going to get super mutant viruses, I believe.“But that’s not not necessarily a terrible thing, but the virus is going to do very unexpected things because the amount of pressure on it is going to be severe, so it will adapt. 7, Chris Grayling makes plea over ‘tragic’ decline of hedgehogs Former Tory cabinet minister Christ Grayling has urged the government to do more to stop the decline of hedgehogsThe Epsom and Ewell MP said the “catastrophic loss” of the small, spiky mammals was due to a mixture of habitat loss, the reduction of wildlife and protections available.Speaking in a Commons debate on the Environment Bill, he said: “It is tragic, back in the 1950s there was something like 30 million hedgehogs in this country, now it’s estimated to be about 1.5 million, that is a catastrophic loss.”“When I was a child, hedgehogs were around in the garden all the time, I have never as an adult seen a hedgehog in my garden or anywhere near it, this is a tragic loss and one we have to work to reverse.”Too many species he said had declined in numbers, adding “we should be protecting them all”.Saying hedgehog numbers had declined by 95% in recent years, he asked the government to address “shortcomings” in current legislation, adding: “I hope we’ll all be hedgehog champions going forwards and I’d say to the minister we’re going to be holding her feet to the fire to make sure her department delivers.” 8, It’s Jeremy Corbyn’s birthdayAnd finally ... Jeremy Corbyn is celebrating his 72th birthday. The former Labour leader shows no sign of slowing down campaigning, however, as he plans on celebrating the milestone with an online event entitled ‘Happy Birthday Jeremy – Restore the Whip’. Corbyn sits as an independent MP after his successor Keir Starmer suspended him from the Parliamentary Labour Party following his claim that anti-Semitism in the party on his watch had been “overstated” by his opponents. He remains a member of the Labour Party, however. At the event will be comedian Alexei Sayle, as well as a number of left-wing MPs, including Richard Burgon and Zarah Saltana.  There were no well wishes from Dominic Cummings, however, who told MPs as part of his marathon evidence session: “There’s a very profound question in the nature of our political system, any system that leaves people with the choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn is obviously a system that’s gone extremely badly wrong.” Related...The 14 Most Explosive Claims From Dominic Cummings’ Covid EvidenceDominic Cummings Stands By 'Testing Eyesight' Reason For Barnard Castle TripDominic Cummings Says Matt Hancock Lied And Should Be Sacked
Kim Leadbeater, the sister of murdered former MP Jo Cox, has been selected as Labour’s candidate for the Batley and Spen by-election.Cox represented the seat until she was shot and stabbed by a far-right extremist in June 2016.A by-election was triggered earlier this month by the decision of Tracey Brabin, who succeeded Cox, to step down as an MP following her election as the first mayor of West Yorkshire.Labour is desperate to hold on to the seat following the party’s crushing defeat in another “red wall” by-election in Hartlepool earlier this month.The result triggered a bitter round of recriminations, with the Labour left – marginalised under Sir Keir – gunning for the party leader.Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott – a close ally of ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn – said it could be “curtains” for Starmer if they lose again.No date has been been set for the contest. Labour is defending a majority of 3,525 from the 2019 general election. Related...Brexit Is Back, Whether Either Party Likes It Or NotWhy Union Boss Elections Are As Crucial As 'Red Wall' Votes For Keir Starmer
This is a breaking news story and will be updated. Follow HuffPost UK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.Bob Crow, the late boss of the RMT transport union, was undoubtedly a controversial figure. London commuters late for work due to seemingly endless Tube strikes would curse his name. Politicians and journalists who clashed with the left-wing firebrand would call him a “dinosaur” or, owing to his whopping £142,000 salary, a “champagne socialist”. But when Crow died suddenly in 2014, it was notable how tributes came from not just those sympathetic to left-wing politics but from across the political spectrum. Even Boris Johnson, then the Tory mayor of London, recognised Crow “fought tirelessly” for better pay and conditions and that he thought his former foe “a man of character”.Obviously, no self-respecting union leader would want to be seen getting too cosy with Conservative politicians. But how Crow was regarded in the political sphere stands in sharp contrast to Howard Beckett, one of the candidates to replace Len McCluskey as general secretary of Unite. Keir Starmer moved to suspend him from the Labour Party for saying home secretary Priti Patel, a British-born minister of Indian heritage, “should be deported”. Beckett apologised to Patel but remained defiant during an interview with Sky News on Friday, refusing to withdraw from the Unite race and saying his suspension was “completely inappropriate”. He added he did not “literally” mean the minister should be deported and was “sorry if” that was not clear to those that read his hastily-deleted tweet. While the assistant general secretary claimed he had not been informed of a suspension, Labour sources insist an email was sent and his union informed. Unite, meanwhile, does not appear to have taken any action, telling HuffPost UK he “has correctly and unreservedly apologised”, while offering no further comment. Beckett’s is the just the latest in a long line of bad headlines and divisive interventions from union chiefs in the seven years since Crow’s death. And many of them have targeted not the Conservatives, but Labour. McCluskey accused former deputy leader Tom Watson “sharpening his knife looking for a back to stab” and said Starmer faces the “dustbin of history” if he does not change direction. The FBU’s Matt Wrack has hit out at Starmer for “watering down” policies and Labour MPs for undermining former leader Jeremy Corbyn.TSSA boss Manuel Cortes repeatedly went public to hit out at Corbyn for Labour’s “Brexit fudge” when the party was in turmoil over its policy on a second referendum in 2018.  Former GMB general secretary Tim Roache stood down last year citing ill health and has faced claims of impropriety, which he denies. Separately, an independent report found the union to be institutionally sexist. In the minds of voters, all this friendly fire points to more left-wing division and Labour leaders not in control of their party’s agenda. Fresh elections this year for the leadership of Unite and GMB follow Christina McAnea’s election as the first female general secretary of Unison in January. With Peter Mandelson calling for union reform, these races are just as  important for Starmer’s Labour Party, if not more, than any parliamentary by-election. A new era of Labour blood-letting and a “war of the roses” between MPs and the union movement splashed across every newspaper is not likely to boost the electoral hopes of Corbyn’s successor.Though said to be “McCluskey’s right hand man”, Beckett is unlikely to emerge victorious in the Unite race, however. Some believe he may struggle to even make the ballot.The contest is between Steve Turner, a figure who prefers to keep his powder dry until behind closed doors, and moderate Gerard Coyne, who pointedly told HuffPost UK that Unite can no longer be Starmer’s “backseat driver”.  Whoever leads a union affiliated to Labour will have a voice and a platform. But, as Crow proved, how they use that influence will be their legacy. Related...Unite Urged to Stop Being Starmer's 'Backseat Driver' By Union Leadership ContenderLabour Suspends Union Boss After His 'Deport' Priti Patel TweetRace To Replace Len McCluskey Starts As Unite Triggers General Secretary Election
Keir Starmer was reshuffling his shadow cabinet on Sunday as the fallout from Labour’s dismal election results continued.Starmer has already removed deputy leader Angela Rayner as party chair and campaigns coordinator, after Labour lost control of a host of councils and the “red wall” parliamentary seat of Hartlepool for the first time since its inception in the 1970s.The Labour leader has faced a backlash from senior figures for apparently sacking Rayner.Allies insist she has been offered another job in the shadow cabinet but they could not say what it would be, with Starmer in the process of reshuffling his top team on Sunday.Reports suggest shadow communities secretary Steve Reed could be in line to replace Rayner. Ian Murray, the shadow secretary for Scotland, and MP Chris Bryant have also been tipped for promotion. Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds is meanwhile among those reported to be in line for a demotion. There has also been criticism from some sections of the party of Starmer’s key aide Jenny Chapman, the former MP for Darlington.Speaking to Times Radio on Sunday, Murray insisted Rayner had not been sacked and that Starmer wants to move her to a “much more prominent role” so Labour can benefit from her “authentic voice”.But after headlines that Rayner had been sacked sparked outrage from some in the party, Murray admitted: “Communications over the last 24 hours have not been top-quality.” Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, who has signalled he is ready to take over from Starmer if asked, said of Rayner’s sacking: “I can’t support this.“This is straightforwardly wrong if it’s true.”Members of former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s team, who come from the left of the party, were among those to criticise the move to “scapegoat” the deputy leader.Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott called it “baffling” while John McDonnell labelled it a “huge mistake”.McDonnell, a former shadow chancellor, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “When the leader of the party on Friday said he takes responsibility for the election result in Hartlepool in particular and then scapegoats Angela Rayner, I think many of us feel that is unfair, particularly as we all know actually that Keir’s style of leadership is that his office controls everything.“It is very centralised and he controlled the campaign.”In a further sign of the splits in the party, Labour grandee Lord Peter Mandelson urged Starmer to dilute the influence of party members and “hard left factions” linked to train unions.He said Starmer was set to embark on a “serious review” of Labour policy.“I also believe that he needs to to look at how the party is organised, how it represents the genuine grassroots of the party and reflects the genuine views and values of Labour voters across the country in all the nations and the regions of the country,” Mandelson told Times Radio“The idea that the Labour Party and its policies and its outlook can be driven disproportionately frankly by a mixture of grassroots members in London and the south-east and the sort of hard left factions that are attached to trade unions - that has got to go, we have got to change.“Party reform therefore I think is an essential part of what Keir has got to take on next.”As well as undertaking a reshuffle, Starmer has hired Gordon Brown’s former chief pollster Deborah Mattinson – who has written a book about why Labour lost the so-called “red wall” at the 2019 general election – as director of strategy.Related...Angela Rayner Sacked As Party Chair And Campaigns Chief By Keir StarmerSadiq Khan Re-Elected As London Mayor Despite Late Tory SurgeNicola Sturgeon Hails 'Emphatic' Victory For SNP In Holyrood Elections
Sadiq Khan has won the London mayoralty for Labour despite a late Tory surge in the capital.Khan clinched a second term at City Hall after winning 45% to challenger Shaun Bailey’s 35%.He won a total of 1,206,034 (55.2%) votes to Bailey’s 977,601 (44.8%), on a turnout of 42%.The London mayor’s win followed more comprehensive metro mayoral victories for Andy Burnham in greater Manchester and Steve Rotheram in Liverpool.  Labour also triumphed in the Welsh parliament.Khan’s win, plus other victories for Labour in the West of England and Cambridgeshire mayoral races, provided much needed relief for Keir Starmer after heavy defeats to the Tories in the Hartlepool by-election and other parts of England.Every opinion poll for months had given Khan a lead of 15 points. One poll put him on a massive 50%, nearly winning on first preferences, but the actual London result was much tighter.Several Labour activists reported difficulty in motivating the party’s inner city working class vote, while the Conservatives mobilised their forces in outer London.In the end, Khan held off the Tory surge and Labour performed even better in London Assembly seats.Khan’s vote dipped by 4.2% on his 2016 result, while Bailey narrowly increased the Tory share from Zac Goldsmith’s performance that year.Green party candidate Siân Berry polled 7.8%, up 2% on five years ago, while the Lib Dems’ Luisa Porritt managed 4.4%, down slightly.Among the minority party candidates, YouTuber independent Niko Omilana (49,628 votes) came in 5th place, beating the Reclaim Party’s Laurence Fox (47,634).Joke candidate Count Binface came in 9th place beating Jeremy Corbyn’s conspiracy theorist brother Piers, who came 11th.In his victory speech, Khan called for unity. “The scars of Brexit remain, a crude culture war is pushing us further apart. We must use this moment of national recovery to heal those divisions.“Coronavirus doesn’t care if you are a Brexiteer, a Remainer or woke.”Thank you London. It’s the absolute honour of my life to serve the city I love for another three years. I’ll leave no stone unturned to get our city back on its feet. A brighter future is possible, and we’ll deliver it together.— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) May 8, 2021However, Starmer’s troubles in the north continued as his party lost control of Durham County Council for the first time in a century, after the Tories took 14 seats and Labour lost 21.In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon was reinstalled as first minister as the SNP fell just short of an overall majority in the Holyrood parliament.After her party’s fourth successive victory in the Scottish parliament elections, Sturgeon said her win was a mandate for a new independence referendum. Boris Johnson received yet another boost when Tory Andy Street retained the West Midlands metro mayoralty with an increased share of the vote.Related...Angela Rayner Sacked As Party Chair And Campaigns Chief By Keir StarmerWhat Next For Sir Keir Starmer After His Knightmare On Brexit Street?Grenfell-Style Cladding Is STILL On More Than 100 High-Rise Buildings
Whether it was the result of the vaccine “bounce”, big public spending during the pandemic or the enduring effect of Brexit, Boris Johnson has had a very good couple of days.But Tory success in the Hartlepool by-election and the personal popularity of the prime minister only tell part of the story of “Super Thursday” – hundreds of local, national and mayoral elections across the UK. Here’s what we know so far as counting is set to continue all weekend.Hartlepool by-election– The Conservatives won the north east constituency, with Jill Mortimer seizing the seat from Labour with a majority of 6,940.The first big result that defined the narrative for the next 24 hours. In a stunning victory, the Conservatives overturned a majority of 3,500 at the general election to take the seat – which had been Labour-held since it was formed in 1974. The bruising result – described as “absolutely shattering” by one shadow cabinet minister – prompted calls from across the Labour Party for a change of direction, especially from the Left of the party allied to former leader Jeremy Corbyn. However Peter Mandelson spins it, facts are stubborn things.Labour won 53% of the vote in 2017 in Hartlepool - a majority of all the votes. And we won with 38% last time - a 9% lead. This time we got 29% and we lost. The party is going in the wrong direction.— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) May 7, 2021Labour leader Keir Starmer pledged to do “whatever is necessary” and told his party to “stop quarrelling among ourselves”.“I’m bitterly disappointed in the result and I take full responsibility for the results – and I will take full responsibility for fixing this,” he said.“We have changed as a party but we haven’t set out a strong enough case to the country.“Very often we have been talking to ourselves instead of to the country and we have lost the trust of working people, particularly in places like Hartlepool.“I intend to do whatever is necessary to fix that.” Mayoral races – Tory Ben Houchen was re-elected as Tees Valley mayor by a landslide on the first count, taking almost 73% of the vote.– Labour’s Ros Jones was re-elected Doncaster mayor while Joanne Anderson became Liverpool’s first black female mayor.There was further success for the Tories in the north east with Houchen comfortably winning a second term as Tees Valley mayor.Along with Hartlepool, that means two-thirds of the “hat trick” of results targeted by the Tories have been achieved – with the focus now on Andy Street remaining as West Midlands mayor.In Liverpool, the city elected its first black female mayor as Labour held on to the role despite corruption allegations.Joanne Anderson was named as the successor to Joe Anderson on Friday, after the former mayor chose not to stand following his arrest as part of a Merseyside Police fraud investigation.I can’t believe I’m writing this. But Tory sources say Shaun Bailey’s campaign now believe they can win the London mayoralty.— Patrick Maguire (@patrickkmaguire) May 7, 2021And there was increased excitement over arguably the most significant mayoral battle. While many were expecting an easy victory for sitting Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, the Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey was doing much better at the ballot box than the polls suggested. A result is expected on SundayEnglish local council elections– With results available from 64 out of 143 councils, the Conservatives had a net gain of seven authorities and 155 seats, and Labour a net loss of four authorities and 142 seats.The governing party – and one that has been in power for more than a decade – is not supposed to win by-elections. It is also not supposed to do well in local authority elections, where a mid-term drubbing is often seen as a protest vote against the current national administration.But the rot continued for Labour. Not only did it lose seats but it lost overall control of councils, including Harlow, Dudley and Nottinghamshire. With the Conservatives continuing to make gains as council results poured in from across England, the prime minister hailed the results as support for his government’s “levelling up agenda”.“It’s a mandate for us to continue to deliver, not just for the people of Hartlepool and the fantastic people of the north east, but for the whole of the country,” Johnson said.Scottish parliament vote– In Scotland, the SNP gained East Lothian from Labour and Ayr and Edinburgh Central from the Tories.– Of the first 47 seats in the Scottish parliamentary contest to declare, 38 went to the SNP, four to Liberal Democrats, three to the Tories and two to Labour.The SNP made gains from its rivals as it edged closer to an overall majority – but Nicola Sturgeon’s hopes of a victory that would hand her a mandate for a second Scottish independence are hanging in the balance.The SNP picked up key seats in Edinburgh Central – where former SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson replaced the one time Scottish Tory boss Ruth Davidson – as well as as in Ayr and East Lothian.But under Holyrood’s proportional representation system, those successes could see it lose seats on the regional list ballot.Meanwhile, Labour’s Jackie Baillie held on to her Dumbarton constituency – which had been the most marginal seat in all of Scotland and a top target for the SNP.‘The most probable outcome is the SNP is going to be one or two seats short.’Prof Sir John Curtice believes Scottish Labour’s hold on the Dumbarton seat makes a SNP majority at this Scottish Parliament election unlikely.#BBCElections#SP21➡️— BBC Scotland News (@BBCScotlandNews) May 7, 2021With some constituencies still to be counted on Saturday, when the crucial regional list results will also be declared, Sturgeon said it was “not impossible”. And while the majority of the 129 MSPs at Holyrood have still be declared, Sturgeon said it was “almost certain” the SNP would win its fourth term in power at Holyrood.Elsewhere, former first minister and Alba Party leader Alex Salmond said the measure of his party’s success would be “our existence as a political party”, adding it is “here to stay”, as the early counting suggested it was struggling.Welsh assembly count– In Wales, after 30 seats had been declared Labour had 19, the Conservatives seven and Plaid Cymru four.The picture was much brighter for Welsh Labour, where party leader Mark Drakeford declared its strong Senedd election performance as “an extraordinary set of results in extraordinary times” as the party look favourite to retain control of the Welsh government.The party has exceeded expectations, having so far lost just one of its seats and taking Rhondda from Plaid Cymru’s former leader Leanne Wood.Drakeford said earlier on Friday that signs of a strong Labour performance reflected the “real enthusiasm” he had encountered on doorsteps. It looks as if Labour has taken the Rhondda off Plaid so I want to pay tribute to Leanne Wood after 18 years as AM/MS for/in the Rhondda, which is a phenomenal act of dedication to our community.— Chris Bryant (@RhonddaBryant) May 7, 2021Labour said Plaid Cymru had “imploded” in losing its Rhondda seat to Labour’s Elizabeth Buffy Williams and failing to take target seats Llanelli and Aberconwy.Rhondda’s outgoing MS, Wood, told ITV Wales the result was “disappointing”, but said her party ran a “clean and honest campaign”.Labour’s strong results will minimise its reliance on other parties in order to form a government, with Plaid previously thought as the most likely to enter into a coalition with them were Labour some way short of a majority.Only one of Wales’ so-called red wall seats, the Vale of Clwyd, fell to the Welsh Conservatives.Related...Conservatives Win Hartlepool By-Election In Stunning Defeat For LabourSix Reasons Labour Lost The Hartlepool By-ElectionLabour Reshuffle: Who Might Be In And Out Of Keir Starmer's Top Team
As the results came in, the pattern was clear and, for Labour activists, painfully familiar. Keir Starmer, the man elected to stop the bleed in the party’s so-called red wall, was instead presiding over yet more red ruin. Boris Johnson’s Conservatives had not only captured the totemic Westminster seat of Hartlepool – a Labour constituency since its inception – but a slew of English council seats from County Durham to Dudley were turning from red to blue.Despite a scramble to manage expectations by Labour HQ, there could be no glossing over the fact these were terrible results, with Starmer rejected by much of its previous working-class base. Starmer did not quell speculation he will embark on a reshuffle in response to the drubbing, telling reporters on Friday his party has “lost the trust of working people” and he will do “whatever it takes” to restore it. So, who might he look to in order to shake things up? Here are some of the options. On The Way Up Wes Streeting Viewed as a rising star hungry to do battle with the Tory benches, the shadow schools minister grew up in a council flat in Stepney and went on to study at Cambridge. A moderate and vocal critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Streeting has become a close ally of Starmer’s in recent months, repeatedly taking to the airwaves to defend the party’s new direction.As the country recovers from coronavirus, Labour may see the Tories as vulnerable on social mobility and the widening opportunity gap between rich and poor. It is for this reason, many tip Streeting to take the education brief from Kate Green, who some feel has failed to land blows on Gavin Williamson despite the A-Levels fiasco and a series of cuts.  “Wes would be Gavin Williamson’s worst nightmare,” said one Labour source. It is also possible, however, that Streeting’s confident media performances could be placed in a more strategic role, such as shadowing Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office role.  His previous support for the People’s Vote campaign could hamper his chances, however, with Starmer keen to draw a line under Brexit. Rachel Reeves Widely tipped to replace Annaliese Dodds as shadow chancellor, Leeds West MP Reeves is one of the few shadow ministers with previous frontbench experience. Seen as on the right of the party, Reeves served in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet and is seen as having won trust and respect among those the left by leading the campaign against “Tory sleaze”.  Though still controversial with some in her party because of past comments on benefits, her frequent media appearances are testament to Starmer’s faith in her abilities. A former economist for the Bank of England and British Embassy in Washington, Reeves is not thought to have any competition if Starmer is searching for a new face to take on Rishi Sunak at the despatch box. Jess Phillips  One of Starmer’s most high-profile frontbenchers, the shadow domestic violence minister led party calls for action after Sarah Everard’s murder. The Birmingham Yardley MP has a forthright style and, though Starmer may view her as something of a loose cannon, he is said to highly prize her work campaigning on homelessness, domestic killings and violence against women. Phillips, who was the moderates’ candidate for leadership when Corbyn stepped down, is also a strong communicator, both online and on broadcast, and comfortable with the “red wall” voters Starmer fears the party has lost touch with. The 39-year-old has previously voiced an ambition to be home secretary, which is a brief Starmer may consider for her, but possible alternatives may be shadow equalities secretary. She may also be considered for the role of shadow employment rights secretary should Starmer wish to move Corbyn ally Andy McDonald.On the way out? Anneliese DoddsStarmer’s choice for shadow chancellor, the most important appointment for any leader, has attracted regular criticism. Her allies point out her difficult task in facing Rishi Sunak while the occupant of Number 11 has handed out huge sums of cash via the furlough scheme and other Covid support. But many feel Dodds has failed to nail her opponent when he was weak on free school meals cuts, the Eat Out To Help Out debacle and the Greensill Capital scandal. Prevaricating over whether Labour would back a wealth tax and hiring a former advisor of John McDonnell’s also fanned concerns about whether she was suitable. Demoting his own pick for such a crucial job would inevitably invite criticism of Starmer’s judgement, however, and Dodds is well-liked and viewed as knowledgeable among MPs. But, equally, if Starmer refused to consider a move, he may face the charge of tinkering around the edges. Jonathan AshworthThe shadow health secretary has been in post since 2016 and was appointed by Corbyn, despite not sharing the former leader’s left-wing outlook. Sources have suggested Starmer is keen for a reset on health policy, especially as the NHS is traditionally Labour’s strongest campaign issue and Johnson’s approach to social care may soon be a key dividing line. Others have underlined that sacking Ashworth, whose current knowledge of the brief is likely to be unrivalled, during the pandemic would be a misstep. Questions over whether Ashworth has briefed against Starmer and his staff to journalists have been swirling, however. “He is acting like he has already lost his job,” said one source. Liz Kendall, Justin Madders, Rosena Allin-Khan and Lucy Powell are among the names touted as his replacement. Emily ThornberryRelations between the shadow trade secretary and Starmer are thought to have been rocky in recent months. Starmer demoted his leadership rival from her role as shadow foreign secretary last year and there are suggestions he could go further. Despite her combative scrutiny of Liz Truss, Thornberry has been increasingly sidelined in recent months, rarely, if ever, appearing on the media. Her previous comments about the St George’s flag are also seen by Starmer’s allies as undermining the party’s attempts to appear more patriotic. It is possible she is offered an alternative role as shadow leader of the Commons, should long-serving Valerie Vaz wish to move on, but it’s not clear Thornberry would accept. Starmer might consider bringing in a well-known “big beast” as her replacement, such as former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn. What else could Starmer do?Starmer will be desperate to show working class voters he is listening and may look to boost the role of Wigan MP and shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy. Her policy work on reviving the party’s offer to towns is highly rated and sources say he is keen for her to be seen on broadcast media more often. A sideways move to the Home Office role, replacing Nick Thomas-Symonds, to shadow Priti Patel may be on the cards. It would see Nandy front and centre of efforts to make the party credible on issues like crime and immigration, something vital to securing support in the red wall. Deputy leader Angela Rayner’s role as elections chief has also been questioned, with some saying she lacks experience of marginal battles. Others lay the blame for defeats at the door of former Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, Starmer’s campaign chief, though the leader is said to remain loyal to her.Ian Murray, who is helping Anas Sarwar to lead a resurgence in Scotland, and Chris Bryant, whose local party has ousted Plaid Cymru’s former leader Leanne Wood in the Rhondda in the Welsh assembly elections, are said to have strong cases for expanded attacking roles. Should Rachel Reeve’s potential elevation to shadow chancellor create a vacancy as shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, Starmer will need a strategic brain. He may choose one of his key allies, such as Steve Reed or Bridget Phillipson, to battle Michael Gove. Rayner may also be approached. It is a high-profile spot that entails building on the success Reeves has had scrutinising Johnson’s rule-breaking in the wake of the cash for curtains scandal and questions over PPE contracts. It is not clear whether Marsha de Cordova’s position as shadow equalities minister is safe, despite fears about the optics of removing a black, disabled woman from his top team.Others in line for promotion include Sarah Jones, who is currently shadow policing minister, and Chi Onwurah, who has long been tipped for shadow business secretary. It is unlikely, however, that Ed Miliband will relinquish his climate change responsibilities ahead of the COP 26 conference.Alison McGovern, shadow sports minister and Wirral MP, and Alex Norris may be asked to step up if Starmer’s reshuffle is wide-ranging. Related...Labour Councillor Filmed ‘Pilfering’ Tory Election Leaflet From LetterboxHere’s What’s At Stake In The ‘Super Thursday’ ElectionsUnite Urged to Stop Being Starmer's 'Backseat Driver' By Union Leadership Contender