Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour Party’s new leader, once again took aim at Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his handling of Government today. It came as Mr Johnson’s Director of Communications Lee Cain resigned amid suggestions of internal tensions in Downing Street. Sir Keir told the Government to “focus on the job in hand” – the coronavirus crisis and looming transition period end date – rather than “squabbling” in No 10.
He called on Mr Johnson and his Cabinet to “pull yourselves together” amid signs of a bitter power struggle at the top rungs of the Prime Minister’s administration.
Sir Keir has upped his rhetoric against Mr Johnson since he suspended former leader Jeremy Corbyn nearly two weeks ago.
The move came following Mr Corbyn’s statement in light of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on antisemitism in the party under his leadership.
While he condemned racism as a “cancer”, Mr Corbyn appeared to evade any responsibility for the report’s findings, and said: “The scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media”.
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In response Sir Keir suspended Mr Corbyn much to the dismay of his allies and left-wing Labour members.
Reports have since emerged that talk of Mr Corbyn and the EHRC have been banned in the party.
Mr Corbyn said he would fight the suspension.
An email from Labour’s general secretary, David Evans, warned local party officials that he will “not hesitate to take action” should they allow members to break this rule.
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Tim Bale, professor of Politics at Queen Mary University, told Express.co.uk this was a clear sign that Labour was increasingly conscious of its image and desire to appear as though it is responding to the EHRC report.
He explained: “They’re very worried about being seen by the EHRC as not cooperating or putting its recommendations into action if Starmer and other Labour officials allow bodies in the party to criticise the report or at least to appear to criticise the report by supporting Corbyn.
“I think it’s true that this is to some extent the Starmer regime trying to control the situation, but it’s also showing his want of reducing the party’s liability or vulnerability to further action.”
Mr Corbyn has already received support from previous party top brass, including former senior shadow cabinet members John McDonnell and Dianne Abbott.
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It has also been reported that former shadow attorney general Baroness Shami Chakrabarti is working on a legal case to get his suspension revoked, a point which Sir Keir has vowed to “talk” to the Baroness about.
Len McCluskey, Unite the Union’s general secretary has also voiced anger at Sir Keir’s decision.
Even before the move, Mr McCluskey appeared to threaten Labour’s “new management” – reducing the party’s donations by 10 percent, a sum Mr McCluskey said totalled £150,000.
It is worth noting that Unite is Labour’s single biggest donor.
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Prof Bale said that the more people who take similar actions, the more it will look as though Sir Keir is failing to reinforce the seriousness of the report’s conclusions.
He said: “He and the party would rather the local factions throughout the country didn’t start party resolutions claiming solidarity with Corbyn and therefore implicitly criticising the report.
“There’s no doubt they would like to keep a lid on that criticism, but also I think they’re very concerned about how the party handles the suspension of Corbyn.
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“They seem to want there to be a completely clean and fair process and they don’t really want the party commenting on it in public as it goes through.”
In order to pursue this “fair” process, Sir Keir has said his office will not participate in the review over Mr Corbyn’s suspension.
The veteran politician’s future now rests with the party who will launch an investigation into the decision.