Analysis

Starmer squad worried about Gardiner challenge and trying to tarnish by association, say Labour insiders

Popular Brent North MP mentioned extensively in coverage of Chinese agent, even though there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing

Keir Starmer has signalled his fear of a future leadership challenge by the popular and capable Brent North MP Barry Gardiner, say Labour insiders. The security services have briefed MPs about a Chinese-British woman they say acted in Parliament as an agent of the Chinese government over an extended period, but coverage of the revelation has mentioned Gardiner extensively even though he has no involvement in the events beyond employing the woman’s son as a parliamentary observer – and MI5 has said that the son had no knowledge of or connection with his mother’s activities, while Gardiner had been liaising with security services for years on a precautionary basis simply because she acted as lawyer for a number of Chinese companies.

By contrast, although Christine Lee is said to have been working with a different MP and this was the subject of the MI5 briefing to the Commons Speaker, that MP has not been named in the extensive coverage across a range of media.

Labour insiders told Skwawkbox that Keir Starmer fears a challenge by Gardiner – one of the few MPs with broad popularity in different wings of the party and one of Labour’s ablest media performers, so much so Starmer sacked him from the front bench on taking the leadership, seemingly for fear of being outshone and MPs were clamouring for more information on a rumoured challenge late last year – and that Starmer’s allies were hoping to tarnish Gardiner’s reputation by association.

Coverage of the Lee briefing has – eventually – got round to mentioning that there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Barry Gardiner – but those who read only part way or don’t read closely may well miss it and assume that the smoke the media is blowing up their backside means there must be ‘fire’ somewhere.

The cowardly tactics of the Labour right emerge yet again, after similar briefings to media allies claiming Jeremy Corbyn was about to launch a new party.

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