Cooper and Reeves among right-wing MPs said by insiders to be angling for top job as well as the current deputy leader – but there could be a spanner in the works for any of them
As Labour’s and party leader Keir Starmer’s polling and prospects continue to plumment, with pollsters now predicting a Tory win even in Hartlepool and even Tony Blair reportedly tiring of him, a number of MPs are already ‘on manoeuvres’ to replace him according to Labour insiders.
Figures close to the leadership say that Angela Rayner and Yvette Cooper are already preparing for a challenge, with Rachel Reeves also in the frame – and a further, Sadiq Khan-backed MP said to be playing a longer game.
Figures close to Rayner, who was the subject of speculation in the Murdoch press last weekend over her disillusionment with Starmer, have been heavily briefing the media in an attempt to create ‘buzz’ about her leadership prospects. An MP close to her camp said ‘She’s definitely on manoeuvres’.
The Times report also confirmed what Skwawkbox reported weeks ago about her team‘s interference in the Liverpool mayoral selection as part of an attempt to build up a power base in the north-west supportive of her leadership ambitions:
Meanwhile Starmer’s allies are incandescent about how Rayner’s team has handled the process of selecting the Labour candidate for Liverpool mayor. A Labour official said: “There is absolute fury at how Angela’s team botched the selection.
Cooper, meanwhile, has been touted for a promotion in the media and managed to trend on social media last week, but even more significantly her own social media activity and briefings by her allies to the media have party insiders convinced that she is eyeing another bid for the party’s top job.
One senior source told Skwawkbox:
Yvette has had a rush of mentions in the friendly media, but her own social media activity has been off the scale for an MP whose main activity is as chair of the Home Affairs [Select] Committee, even during recess she’s been busy.
Cooper has also continued to receive significant donations from former Tory donor Peter Hearn and his company MPM Connect Limited.
Rachel Reeves is another MP that insiders are mentioning in connection with a bid, but many feel that she doesn’t have enough personality to mount a serious challenge. However, Keir Starmer’s decision to throw her under a bus over the Easter weekend to cover for his widely-criticised appearance at a homophobic church will have angered the right-wing MP who has had her eye on the Shadow Chancellor job. Reeves is unlikely to have enough support to win and is considered by many to more of a ‘stalking horse’, but her allies point to the large number of left members who have quit the party since Starmer became leader – and to the fact that the right-dominated National Executive Committee (NEC) could set a freeze date that would prevent rejoiners from voting in a leadership election.
Behind the scenes, Blairites consider Tooting MP Rosena Allin-Khan to be a strong prospect for the leadership, pointing to what they consider a strong showing in last year’s deputy leadership contest. Allin-Khan is also said to be strongly favoured by London mayor Sadiq Khan. However, some say that her ambitions are on a slower burn and that the prospects of an Allin-Khan challenge for the leadership are less imminent. The fact that Khan is expected to win re-election as mayor in May, with the Tory bid imploding after the party reportedly ‘cut funding lines’ to Tory candidate Shaun Bailey, might cause the prospect to crystallise rapidly after the local elections.
Nandy has also been mentioned in the media over the weekend as a figure that Starmer’s team fears, but her recent low profile on social media stands in stark contrast with Cooper’s high activity and insiders feel she has decided now is not the time for her own bid.
A spanner in the works?
One potential risk to all these would-be leaders is the potential return to parliamentary politics of Andy Burnham, whose route back to the Commons looks likely to open soon. The instinctively loyal Burnham would prefer to allow Starmer to play out his leadership before a potential challenge, but his enhanced popularity after his performance as Greater Manchester mayor during the pandemic will worry Cooper in particular and the possibility of his return as a qualified challenger has added pressure to Cooper to act sooner rather than later.
Keir Starmer’s house of cards looks increasingly shaky around him and the aftermath of May’s elections could be the trigger for it to be blown down.
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