Keir Starmer’s woes continue to mount as closest parliamentary aide resigns

Announcement follows difficult shadow cabinet reshuffle

Kate Devlin
Whitehall Editor
Tuesday 11 May 2021 19:38
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Keir Starmer says he is ‘bitterly disappointed’ with election results

Sir Keir Starmer’s woes continue to mount after his closest parliamentary aide suddenly resigned.

Carolyn Harris, who had served as Sir Keir’s parliamentary private secretary since he became the leader of the Labour Party last year, has left the role.

It marks the continuation of a torrid weekend for the Labour leader, who carried out a strained reshuffle of his top team following the party’s defeat in the Hartlepool by-election last week.

A mixed bag of results in the “Super Thursday” elections across the UK led to an onslaught of criticism, much of it aimed at the leader, from different wings of the party.

In the job, Ms Harris was supposed to act as Sir Keir’s “eyes and ears” with other Labour MPs.

But relations are understood to be strained.

Some accuse Ms Harris of acting as a “cheerleader” for Sir Keir, rather than reflecting the concerns of Labour MPs to the leadership.

In a statement, Ms Harris, who is the MP for Swansea East and deputy leader of Welsh Labour confirmed that she had left her post.

She said: “It has been the proudest moment of my career to co-chair the campaign that saw Keir Starmer elected as Labour leader, and to serve as his PPS [parliamentary private secretary] for the past year.

“Stepping back from this role is the right thing at this moment, coming as it does after some trying personal times and an ever-increasing workload as deputy leader of Welsh Labour.

“I have enjoyed every minute, and look forward to supporting Keir the best way I can in the months ahead.”

The surprise departure came just 24 hours after Sir Keir tried to draw a line under the events of the last few days and after MPs suggested Ms Harris had exacerbated tensions between the leaders’ office and his then deputy, Angela Rayner.

Spokespeople for both sides declined to comment on the claims.

Yesterday, in a public sign of a rapprochement, Sir Keir and Ms Rayner were spotted having a cup of coffee in Westminster. Over the weekend, he had been forced to give her a number of new roles after a backlash against reports she had been demoted.

As part of the reshuffle, Sir Keir did sack his shadow chancellor and chief whip. But Labour MPs expressed concern that he had emerged from the exercise with his leadership weakened, not strengthened.

He is expected to travel to Wales soon, one of the parts of the country where Labour exceeded expectations at last week’s elections.

Meanwhile, the architect of another key victory last week, Andy Burnham, who was re-elected as mayor of Greater Manchester, warned that the party had become "too cautious" under Sir Keir and had been penalised for it at the ballot box.

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