Keir Starmer is shifting a key adviser to a new role as part of his office overhaul ahead of another challenging by-election in the traditional heart of Labor.
The decision to move Morgan McSweeney, his chief of staff, who helped the mastermind win the leadership of Starmer, came just a day after the party announced that the leader’s two top communications officials were resigning.
It also comes after minor turmoil that followed the disastrous electoral defeat in Hartlepool last month, when Labor lost the seat to the Conservatives for the first time in 62 years. Starmer sparked fury on the left by removing Angela Rayner as party chair. He later fired Anneliese Dodds as shadow chancellor and his closest parliamentary aide, Carolyn Harris, resigned.
McSweeney’s move follows months of complaints from the Starmer front about the performance of his office and the lack of insight the leader has provided so far on what the party stands for. Some insiders complained that McSweeney was often difficult to reach, although his allies say he has spent a great deal of time fixing problems that grew during the civil war years under Jeremy Corbyn.
A high-ranking figure complained that McSweeney was part of a tight-knit group that failed to make an impression, a group they said included Secretary-General David Evans. Jenny Chapman, effectively Starmer’s policy chief, has also been criticized for not giving party figures a message to convey.
A party source insisted that McSweeney was not being sidelined: “Morgan remains Keir’s number one adviser. He stays, he stays in the top team and he stays the leader of the opposition office, preparing Labor for 2023. “
In a message to staff, McSweeney said it was “categorically not the case” for him to leave. “Since May, Keir and I have intensified our discussions on how the party machine should refocus on winning the next general election and we have decided that the priority now must be to ensure that the proper structure is created to achieve that essential Labor victory,” he said . wrote.
“As part of that, we have agreed that this will be my main role. That means that some of my current daily functions will be passed on to someone else. I will be fully focused on what we all want, which is to win the next general election. “
The review leaves room for some major changes to Starmer’s top team, though who will be recruited is not yet known. Deborah Mattinson, who served as pollster for former Labor Prime Minister Gordon Brown, will join as head of strategy in the coming weeks. .
Further opposition to Starmer’s leadership is set to be unleashed should the party lose Batley and Spen by election next month. A poll last week by Survation suggested Labor is in line to lose the West Yorkshire seat to the Conservatives. While there are no plans developed to challenge Starmer, figures within the party are already discussing Rayner and Lisa Nandy as possible leaders. Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester, also receives tips, but is currently not an MP.
A source close to Rayner dismissed any suggestion that he was considering a challenge: “This is bullshit. Angela and her team have focused on the radical policy they just announced about flexible work and Angela has been campaigning to offer a Labor MP in Batley and Spen. “
Shadow ministers and their teams have spoken of their frustration at the lack of vision coming from Labor headquarters, with some saying they had been left preparing for interviews with very little to say. The imminent departures of Ben Nunn and Paul Ovenden, the top two on the Labor communications team, leave another gap. “His equipment was the only thing that worked,” said a shadow minister.
Starmer’s luck has faded rapidly since the vaccine program was established. A shadow minister said the Starmer team had “wasted a great opportunity” by failing to hold Boris Johnson’s government accountable for the failures of the response to the Covid pandemic. The fall in fortunes came after Starmer closed a big head start on the Conservatives when he took office.
In the wake of the Chesham and Amersham election, in which Labor finished behind the Greens with 622 votes, a Labor leader said: “It’s just shocking. It’s really going from bad to worse, everyone is so depressed. Now there are people with majorities of 2,000-3,000 who think they are toasted. Starmer’s office is dysfunctional.
“The view is that Keir and his office have completely wasted all the goodwill, all the hope, all the desire for him to get it right, that he had last year when he won the leadership with more than 50% of the vote.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism