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SIR KEIR STARMER was under increasing pressure today following Labour’s dismal election results across Britain, with socialists calling for an emergency party conference and MPs refusing to rule out a leadership challenge.
The Labour leader continued to face heavy criticism for the party’s lack of vision ahead of Thursday’s polls, as well as over his own reaction to the results which emerged over the weekend.
Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs secretary and former shadow cabinet member Richard Burgon MP called for a special party conference to address the party’s poor performance at the polls and to allow the leadership to outline its plans.
“Instead of making progress in the key areas we need to win back, at these elections we’ve gone backwards,” he said. “This can’t go on.”
Labour received a drubbing in some parts of the country, losing control of a host of councils and suffering defeat at the hands of PM Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the Hartlepool by-election — the first time the north-east England constituency has gone blue since it was first contested in 1974.
The party lost control of Durham council for the first time in a century, saw its Sheffield Council leader lose his seat to the Greens – with the council now under no overall control – and also witnessed heavy defeats in Rotherham and Sunderland at local authority level.
The poor show contrasted to the re-election with an increased vote of Welsh Labour, whose leader Mark Drakeford is on the left.
Sir Keir had previously suggested that he would take responsibility for the outcome of the elections. But the poor results led him to announce a shadow cabinet reshuffle today, following the sacking of deputy leader Angela Rayner as Labour Party chair and national campaign co-ordinator on Saturday night.
Senior Labour figures reacted angrily to news of the firing, with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, re-elected in a landslide as one of Labour’s 10 regional leaders in England, saying he couldn’t support the move.
Shadow cabinet member Ian Murray later scrambled to portray the sacking as a “significant promotion,” suggesting that Ms Rayner, a former social care worker who hails from Stockport in north-west England, is in line for a more prominent role after the reshuffle.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said that the party must now pull together to put it back on track for power, adding: “I don’t think you can scapegoat anybody, I don’t think anyone is saying one person is to blame.”
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Ms Rayner’s sacking was baffling, while ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell labelled it a huge mistake.
Mr McDonnell told the BBC: “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.”
Jon Trickett, another Socialist Campaign Group MP, said that the party should not rule out a leadership challenge.
Speaking live with Guardian columnist Owen Jones, Mr Trickett said: “I want to hear what the members’ views are.
“If it comes to the question of a leadership challenge, I don’t think we should rule it out.
“A leader who has won the vote on the back of promises which then were reneged on – some of them quite quickly – needs to come clean.
“I want to hear what he says, what the party membership says, but I think we should be prepared for developments.
“Let the constituency parties meet. I know a few of them are already talking about votes of no confidence. Let’s hear what they’re saying.
“That is the next voice I want to hear if Keir ever gets out of wherever he is at the moment.”
The Labour Party was approached for comment.
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