Now-former Shadow Climate Change and Trade Secretary is a party loyalist, not a Corbynite, with a record of loyalty to every party leader – and Labour’s best media performer
Among Keir Starmer’s first acts as Labour leader has been the sacking of Barry Gardiner from the Shadow Cabinet. Gardiner has been one of Labour’s stars of the past four years – and is hugely popular with the membership.
Gardiner – who has always described himself as a Labour loyalist who takes pride in never having undermined any Labour leader – has been the party’s best media performer by a distance and won the respect of the left by not undermining Jeremy Corbyn, even though the two often differed politically.
Classy as ever, he tweeted today that he had received a ‘courteous phone call’ from Starmer informing him of his removal.
Starmer’s decision to remove Gardiner sends two clear messages – to the membership and to voters.
First, it suggests that the new Labour leader has no interest in maintaining an appearance of unity even when it would be easy and cost-free.
Second, he has no interest in speaking to the leave towns who deserted the party at the general election.
Gardiner was one of three leading front-benchers, with Ian Lavery and Jon Trickett, who argued that Labour should continue to respect the 2016 referendum result – and who warned that a switch to supporting a new referendum would be as disastrous as it ultimately was.
If Starmer had a genuine interest in reaching out to the left of the party or to Labour leavers, he could have retained two or three of Gardiner, Trickett or Lavery in the Shadow Cabinet, in spite of the latter pair’s closeness to Corbyn.
That he has chosen not even to keep Gardiner displays a disdain for the viewpoints of left-wing members and Labour leavers alike – and the fact that he has removed a Scot and two MPs from northern England only compounds the effect.
Instead, Labour will present a front bench to the nation that will almost exclusively consist of hard-core supporters of the remain strategy that gutted the party at the polls just four months ago.
Retaining Jonathan Ashworth – who managed to get into a leaked recording of him talking down the party during the general election campaign – in the Shadow Health position many on the left have argued for years he should have been removed from is not even a sop to the idea of unity.
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