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Exclusive: Top Keir Starmer Aide Digs In Over Plan To Remove Her From Leader's Office

Exclusive: Top Keir Starmer Aide Digs In Over Plan To Remove Her From Leader's Office
5 min read

Keir Starmer’s most senior adviser Baroness Jenny Chapman has won a major power battle at the top of the Labour Party after plans to remove her following a series of damaging election results were dropped.

Chapman is understood to have “dug in” and appealed to her long-time ally Starmer not to transfer her to a job in the House of Lords, despite concerns in the party that huge mistakes were made over the Hartlepool by-election. There has also been concern she is part of a leader’s office growing more remote from its MPs.

Labour sources have accused Starmer of not "listening" to the mood of the party by remaining resolutely loyal to his most senior aide.

The former MP for Darlington, who ran Starmer’s leadership campaign, was offered a job shadowing Lord David Frost in the House of Lords, which would have meant a promotion to the shadow cabinet.

The move – which was widely expected among Labour staffers and senior MPs to take place before the summer recess – has caused confusion within the party and the debacle has led to questions over Starmer’s authority over his own top team.

One shadow minister confirmed to PoliticsHome that moving Chapman to the Lords was “definitely the plan”.

A Labour source believed the fact that the move didn't go ahead shows Chapman didn’t agree to it, and Starmer will have struggled to move her due to loyalty.

They said: “Keir likes to delegate a lot of the bad cop roles to the people around him. Jenny is in his inner circle, she takes on the bad cop role and that’s something he can’t exist without. He just can’t fathom what his leadership would be like without her because she’s been there from the very beginning.

“She is quite forceful and she knows what she wants. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been very clear about what position she wanted and it seems if she hasn’t moved, then it’s the job she’s got presently.”

Another Labour source said people within the party were expecting her to be shifted to the Lords. “It wouldn’t have been Jenny’s decision to go the Lords," they said. "She’d have wanted to have stayed in Starmer’s team as much as possible.”

Labour insisted this week that she is not moving jobs and “talks of a move” are untrue.

Baroness Chapman’s planned departure from Starmer's office would have come weeks after the party faced a drubbing in the Hartlepool by-election where they lost the seat to the Tories for the first time in 57 years and also delivered a poor performance in the local elections.

She was partly responsible for overseeing the initial stages of the election and is said to have been instrumental in pushing forward candidate Dr Paul Williams, a fellow Remain campaigner and political ally who was the only person the local party had a chance to select.

This long-list of one, which was pushed through on a tight timetable back in March, led to criticisms of a “stitch up” by fellow Labour MPs in the North of England who spoke to PoliticsHome at the time.

Another Labour MP said it was "definitely the plan" for Chapman move to the Lords.

"I can only imagine it's not happening now because they didn't want the backlash that was seen after the last reshuffle," they continued.

"She would have been promoted to the shadow Cabinet too, in shadowing Lord Frost, so there was no need for it to be seen as a sacking. It would have been a serious promotion, and a media-facing role."

Another Labour source said anyone who might see it as a demotion from Starmer’s office to the Lords misunderstands the nature of the bicameral Parliament, and of the scrutiny involved in legislation.

Lord Frost is a minister of state at the Cabinet Office and led the Brexit negotiations, while Baroness Chapman served in Starmer’s team as a shadow Brexit minister when he was shadow Brexit secretary between 2016 and 2020.

She is also a staunch Remain campaigner which some have said is not an ideal look for the party as it tries to regain voters in so-called “red-wall” seats.

Chapman survived a reshuffle in the immediate aftermath of May's elections, which saw Starmer give a significant promotion to deputy leader Angela Rayner who is now also shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Anneliese Dodds was moved out of the shadow chancellor role to party chair, and replaced with Rachel Reeves.

Starmer's Parliamentary Private Secretary Carolyn Harris quit amid allegations she had been stoking tensions between Starmer and Rayner around the election period.

The appointment of Deborah Mattinson, founder of the BritainThinks think-tank, who has been hired as a brand new head of strategy, has also led to questions among party members about the value of Chapman remaining in her current post and pointing to potential cross-over in the two jobs.

A Labour source said Starmer should have gone through with the proposed move of Chapman to the Lords, arguing there has to be a recognition at the very top of the party that things are not working as well as they could. 

"Keir is incredibly loyal to those close to him so he wasn't going to look like he was agreeing to throw Jenny to the wolves, but this move was supposed to be an acknowledgement to his less ideologically motivated critics that in recent months they've got things wrong," they said.

"I guess he isn't willing to listen." 

Labour has recently reshuffled its top team in the Lords, with Roy Kennedy taking over Tommy McAvoy as opposition chief whip two weeks ago, and four of the five newly appointed Labour peers, nominated by Starmer, taking on front-bench roles.

Councillor Judith Blake, former leader of Leeds City Council is in the Lords’ shadow communities and housing team, former Labour MP and minister Vernon Coaker, takes on a defence and home office brief, former MEP Wajid Khan shadows the Defra team, and Gillian Merron, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and former MP for Lincoln, is now in Labour’s shadow health team in the Lords.

 

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