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Starmer Faces Challenges From Left and Right if Tories Take Batley and Spen — Reports

© REUTERS / UK PARLIAMENT/JESSICA TAYLORBritain's Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer speaks during a session in Parliament, in London
Britain's Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer speaks during a session in Parliament, in London - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.06.2021
A plethora of party figures have been tipped to replace struggling Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer — including his deputy leader Angela Rayner, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, veteran left-winger John McDonnell and even former PM Tony Blair.

UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer reportedly faces rival leadership bids from both the left and right if his party loses a key by-election next week.

Both the Sunday Times and left-wing website The Skwawkbox reported that shadow women's and equalities secretary Dawn Butler was planning to launch a leadership challenge against Starmer if newly-minted party member Kim Leadbeater loses the Batley and Spen seat in West Yorkshire on Thursday July 1.

Butler denied she was planning a "coup" against Starmer, but told the The Telegraph that she had heard from voters on a visit to Batley and Spen this week that they were unhappy with his leadership.

"I never have been, and never will be, part of a coup against a Labour leader and have no interest in standing against Keir," Butler said. "Labour needs to improve — and that was clear from some of the doorstep conversations — but that is up to the current leadership to put right."

The by-election is seen as a make-or-break test of Starmer's leadership after the disastrous loss of Hartlepool, another northern 'Red Wall' seat, the Tories on May 6 after more than 50 years of Labour MPs —swiftly followed by the party's miserable showing in Chesham and Amersham on June 17, mustering just 622 votes and losing its deposit.

Butler was one of several women MPs who stood for deputy leader of her party in early 2020, following the resignations of former leader Jeremy Corbyn and his deputy Tom Watson. During a campaign that became heavily focussed on transgender issues, she insisted to ITV Good Morning Britain presenter Richard Madeley that "A child is born without sex.”

​In swiftly-deleted tweet in September 2020, Butler praised Extinction Rebellion protesters who tried to prevent the free distribution of conservative-leaning newspapers by blockading their print works.

And in 2019, Butler said there was "something wrong with" anyone who didn't "hate Brexit" — even if they were among the 17.4-million majority that voted for it in 2016, including 60 per cent of voters in Batley and Spen.

​Looming Presence

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The Sunday Times also mooted the return of former prime minister Tony Blair from the House of Lords to the Labour benches in the Commons in what would be a clear threat to the authority of Starmer, who has only been an MP since 2015.

Labour sources told the newspaper that "Blairites have abandoned hope that Starmer can save the party and a small group is trying to convince Blair to return to the Commons."

Recent polls show Starmer failing to make a dent in Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson's commanding poll lead, despite the recent scandals that led to Matt Hancock's resignation as health secretary.

​Shadow housing Secretary Lucy Powell suggested to Sky News' Trevor Phillips on Sunday that bringing back Blair would be divisive.

"We've got a very good leader in Keir Starmer and we are all united behind him," Powell said. "We've watched that movie before, where we turn on ourselves and focus on these other issues. That movie doesn't end well for Labour."

Rumours of Blair's imminent return to frontline politics, swirling since since the start of the year, have been fuelled by a string of widely-reported forays into COVID-19 pandemic — and the re-emergence of his Machiavellian right-hand man Peter Mandelson in May, when his Policy Network think-tank merged with right-wing Labour faction Progress.

But a spokeswoman for leading Blairite peer Lord Adonis played down the rumours, saying: “His view is that he is not considering doing this.”

Other right-wingers and centrists tipped to replace Starmer include shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy, former work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper — another prominent opponent of Brexit — and Greater Manchester Mayor And Burnham. Burnham and Cooper were runners-up to Corbyn in the 2015 leadership election.

Threat From the Left?

The Sunday Times also reported that leading members of super-union Unite were ready to back another leadership bid by Corbyn's shadow chancellor John McDonnell, a major figure on the Labour left since the early 1980s.

But when asked if he would throw his hat into the ring, McDonnell flatly replied: "No".

The Hayes and Harlington MP previously failed to garner enough nominations to challenge Gordon Brown's anointment as successor to Blair in 2007, and withdrew from the 2010 leadership contest in favour of fellow left-winger Diane Abbott — who finished last put of a field of five.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner is also widely seen as a potential challenger. Starmer's sacking of Rayner as party chair — with responsibility for campaigning — in the wake of the dismal May 6 results was viewed as an attempt to sideline her as a rival, but his subsequent flipflop in granting her two more shadow cabinet titles was equally interpreted as a sop to the left of the party.

Meanwhile broadcaster, former MP and veteran pro-Palestine campaigner George Galloway, standing as the Worker's Party of Britain candidate in Batley and Spen, thinks he can win the seat — but would be content with engineering a Labour defeat to put pressure on Starmer.

“Our mission will be successful the minute Keir Starmer has a leadership challenge," Galloway told Novara Media co-founder Aaron Bastani this week. “I don’t think he could survive a defeat to me.”
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