How Keir Starmer Plans To Move On From The Latest Battle In Labour's Civil War (Photo: Illustration: Chris McGonigal/HuffPost; Photos: Getty Images)
Keir Starmer will head off this week on his first overseas family holiday in years.
It will come as a welcome respite from the seemingly never-ending civil war between the Labour leadership and the party’s left wing.
Any hope Starmer had that Labour could simply sit back and enjoy the spectacle of Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak trashing the record of their own government for the next few weeks were shattered when Sam Tarry popped up on Good Morning Britain on Wednesday morning.
The shadow transport minister was broadcasting live from a picket line at London Euston station alongside striking rail workers.
Just 24 hours before, Starmer had declared: “The Labour party in opposition needs to be the Labour party in power and a government doesn’t go on picket lines.”
But it was the fact that Tarry had not sought permission for his TV appearance in advance that particularly annoyed party bosses.
What’s more, he subsequently described himself on Sky News as the shadow secretary of state for transport - a post held by Louise Haigh - before departing from Labour policy by saying public sector workers should receive above-inflation pay rises.
Within hours, Tarry was sacked, sparking unbridled fury from union bosses and MPs on the left of the party.
“Had he just popped up at a picket line and tweeted about it, it’s almost certain that he wouldn’t have been sacked,” a senior party figure told HuffPost UK.
“There is an understanding that emotions are running high on this and that showing support for workers is fine - as long as you’re holding the party line.
“The reason he was sacked was that he booked himself on the TV and gave himself Lou Haigh’s job. If you don’t sack him for that, what’s to stop a junior member of Wes Streeting’s team doing the same next week and announcing we’ll give above inflation pay rises for nurses?
“What Sam did was totally disrespectful to Lou and so we couldn’t just let him off with a slap on the wrists. It’s also very obvious that he wanted to be sacked - but just because he wanted it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”
Speaking after being sacked, Tarry - who just happens to be the partner of Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner - said: “I remain committed to supporting the striking rail workers, and campaigning for a Labour victory at the next general election, which I will fight for relentlessly from the backbenches.”
But a Starmer ally accused the Ilford South MP of being more concerned with preventing his own deselection than securing a Labour government.
“What has Sam achieved by doing this?,” they said. “He has put his fight to hold onto his own seat above Labour’s electoral prospects for his own attention seeking purposes and as a result has driven a coach and horses through a position that’s not easy for anyone.”
A spokesman for Tarry said it was “simply not true” to say his appearance on the picket line had anything to do with the situation in Ilford South.
“Sam has been on picket lines repeatedly during his time on the frontbench,” the spokesman said. “The idea that this was to curry favour with the unions is nonsense because he already has their backing.
“He’s spent the last two years being incredibly loyal, but it got to the point where he just felt ‘enough is enough’.”
Sam Tarry and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on a CWU picket line. (Photo: SOPA Images via Getty Images)
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell led the condemnation of Tarry’s sacking, telling Sky News: “I don’t know who is advising Keir Starmer, but this is a completely unnecessary row that’s been invented just at a time when the Tories are tearing themselves apart.”
Diane Abbott and Rachel Maskell also criticised Starmer, while the already-strained relations between the party and the trade union movement were damaged further.
But a party source said: “These are people who have no interest in helping Labour win the next election and you can tell that because the only contributions they have made in the last two years have been to criticise Labour and make it more difficult for us to win.
“They are desperate to see Keir fail.”
After returning from holiday, Starmer will do a summer tour of the UK, where he will meet voters and “flesh out” the party’s plans for the economy.
“This is the time to get Keir out from behind the podium and doing the stuff he enjoys - spending time with voters,” an insider said.
“He won’t be distracted by all the inward-looking party bollocks from those playing to the gallery - one of the things he learned early on is that the more you give in internal rows, the more people take.”
Nevertheless, Starmer remains under pressure to flesh out Labour’s policy offering, with the polls suggesting that voters remain to be convinced about what his government would actually look like.
“Ideas are going to come out in the Tory leadership race and there is a danger the candidates will use it as a chance to say they are going to fix the economy and that they offer a clean start, despite the fact they have been in government for 12 years,” said one party source.
“Keir has said he’s re-starting the election manifesto with a blank sheet of paper. That’s the right decision but he now needs to write on it.
“We have got to set out where we are. Keir’s conference speech should be the pinnacle of the election narrative.”
There is always a temptation to say that the next leader’s conference speech is their most important one ever, but on this occasion it may well be right.
With the next election just two years away - and possibly even sooner - Starmer is running out of time to seal the deal with the electorate.
“It’s always a big moment,” said one ally. “Last year’s was really good, although it was bit of a high-wire exercise of telling the party it had to get real.
“This year will be different - the party is in a far better place. This year is about reaching out to voters, showing that we have not just the diagnosis of the ills the country faces but the cure.”
But with the Labour movement as split as it has ever been, will Starmer be able reunite his party as well as the country?
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.