© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Labour Party leader Keir Starmer leaves his home after local elections in London, Britain May 7, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
LONDON (Reuters) – The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, reshuffled his team on Sunday after disappointing results in local elections that further strengthened Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s grip on power.
Labour lost control of a number of local authorities and of the parliamentary seat of Hartlepool, previously a Labour bastion for many decades. It held onto city halls in London, Manchester and elsewhere, but those successes could not mask its retreat in areas that used to be party strongholds.
The main changes in the reshuffle included the appointment of Rachel Reeves as head of economic policy, replacing Annaliese Dodds, who became party chair and head of a planned policy review.
Angela Rayner, who was sacked on Saturday as party chair and campaign coordinator in a move that went down badly in Labour ranks, was appointed as policy chief on “the future of work”.
She was also given the title of “shadow first secretary of state”, the equivalent of deputy prime minister in Starmer’s “shadow Cabinet”, or opposition leadership team.
“The Labour Party must be the party that embraces the demand for change across our country,” Starmer said in a statement as the new lineup was announced.
“I look forward to working with our refreshed and renewed team to take on that challenge, deliver that change and build the ambitious programme that will deliver the next Labour government.”
The reshuffle got off to a bad start after several party figures openly criticised the removal of Rayner as party chair. She comes from a working-class background in northern England – precisely the demographic Labour has lost and needs to win back.
Starmer is likely seeking to placate critics by giving Rayner a prominent role in the shadow Cabinet.
Starmer and Rayner were elected as party leader and deputy leader last year, following Labour’s crushing defeat in a general election in December 2019, when it was led by hard-left veteran Jeremy Corbyn.
While opinion polls suggest Starmer has more credibility in the eyes of many voters than Corbyn did, the local election results showed the party was still very far from being in a position to regain power.
After a 13-year stint in office under former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Labour has lost four consecutive general elections since 2010.
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