Diane Abbott: Batley and Spen loss would be ‘curtains’ for Sir Keir Starmer

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Diane Abbott's intervention comes amid mounting pressure on Sir Keir - Peter Nicholls/ Reuters
Diane Abbott's intervention comes amid mounting pressure on Sir Keir - Peter Nicholls/ Reuters

Sir Keir Starmer should resign if Labour loses a forthcoming by-election in a key "Red Wall" seat, Diane Abbott said as she suggested Andy Burnham could replace him.

The former shadow home secretary on Wednesday became the latest Jeremy Corbyn ally to suggest Sir Keir should quit if he failed to turn things around, warning that losing in Batley and Spen "must surely be curtains for him".

Ms Abbott's intervention comes amid mounting pressure on Sir Keir in the wake of a bruising series of local election results and the by-election defeat in Hartlepool.

The Labour leader's authority has been further called into question following a chaotic reshuffle, while Mr Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, has made it clear he will seek to run for leader if the party fails to win the next general election.

Senior Labour insiders now fear they may lose a second Parliamentary seat in the coming months after the West Yorkshire seat of Batley and Spen was vacated when MP Tracy Brabin was elected mayor of the region. Like Hartlepool, the constituency voted heavily to leave the EU.

Writing in The Guardian, Ms Abbott said: "Support from the large minority ethnic electorate may enable the party to hold the seat and Starmer to hang on as Labour leader. But if Labour loses again, it must surely be curtains for him. And then it may be that Andy Burnham's time will have come."

On Wednesday night, a Labour source said of her comments: "The British people want the Labour Party focusing on the future and the next general election, not talking to itself and re-running leadership contests from six years ago."

Separately, it also emerged on Wednesday that Sir Keir had been reprimanded by the statistics watchdog over his claims that crime and recorded violent crime have gone up under the Conservatives.

In a letter sent earlier this week, Sir David Norgrove, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, said the statements risked making "people alarmed by figures that do not reflect reality".

His intervention comes after the Labour leader claimed during an exchange at Prime Minister's Questions on April 28 that "crime is going up" and said last week that "recorded violent crime has doubled" since 2015.

Following a complaint by Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, Sir David told Sir Keir that the face-to-face crime survey (CSEW) was a "better indicator of long-term trends than police recorded crime".

"The CSEW shows a reduction in violent crime of 28 per cent between the year ending March 2015 and the year ending March 2020," he said. "Total crime levels have been falling since the mid-1990s, including last year (though comparisons involving last year are complicated by a change in the method of collection).

"The risk with the statements you made is that people may be alarmed by figures that do not reflect reality, which could affect their behaviour and lead to pressure for policy changes not supported by the data. I am sure you agree that this would not be desirable."

But on Wednesday night a Labour spokesman said: "Police recorded crime is a very widely used measure, including by the policing minister himself. The Conservative Party should stop trying to deflect from its poor record over the last 11 years and focus on keeping our communities safe."

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