POLITICS
11/05/2021 21:11 BST | Updated 11/05/2021 21:13 BST

Keir Starmer’s Commons Aide Carolyn Harris Quits Amid Briefing Row

Latest fallout from botched reshuffle and weekend showdown with Angela Rayner.

Ben Birchall - PA Images via Getty Images
Carolyn Harris

Keir Starmer’s parliamentary aide has quit amid claims that she spread groundless rumours about fellow MPs’ private lives.

Carolyn Harris resigned from her post of parliamentary private secretary (PPS) after a formal complaint was made by a senior MP about her conduct, HuffPost UK has been told.

The departure of the Swansea East MP, who is also deputy leader of the Welsh Labour Party, was seen as the latest fallout from a bitter briefing war over Starmer’s shadow cabinet reshuffle and his decision to “sack” deputy leader Angela Rayner as party chair and campaigns chief.

In a statement issued by Starmer’s office, she said: “It has been the proudest moment of my career to co-chair the campaign that saw Keir Starmer elected as Labour leader, and to serve as his PPS for the past year.

“Stepping back from this role is the right thing at this moment, coming as it does after some trying personal times and an ever-increasing workload as deputy leader of Welsh Labour. I have enjoyed every minute, and look forward to supporting Keir the best way I can in the months ahead.”

It is understood that Harris, who has made no secret of her combative approach to the leader’s critics within the party, sparked a backlash with recent briefings about shadow cabinet ministers’ alleged disloyalty and about MPs’ personal lives.

The Times, which first broke the news that she was stepping down, alleged that Harris had spread “salacious rumours” about colleagues.

One frontbencher told HuffPost UK: “She’s been stirring it about shadow cabinet members, among the PLP, for weeks. She’s been spreading it about in the [Commons] tea room, everywhere. And she’s finally been caught red handed this weekend.”

“The job of PPS is to be the ears and eyes of the leader, not the mouth,” one senior MP said. “She was playing too high a profile role, throwing her weight around, interfering rather than feeding back what the PLP felt. Listen, assess, report, that’s the job.”

Another said: “It felt like Keir wasn’t fully aware of what she was up to, or at least I hope he wasn’t. It would be much worse if he sanctioned it.”

Starmer is now on the hunt for a new PPS. “We need to stop thinking of PPSs as some new intaker, and maybe appoint someone who’s been around a bit,” one backbencher said. “Amiable, clubbable, friends with everybody, that’s what you want.”

Relations between the Labour leader and his deputy soured badly on Saturday night when she learned from the Sunday Times of a plan to fire her from her campaigns role.

At one point, Rayner was tempted to go public with her anger at being apparently made a scapegoat for Labour’s poor local elections performance in parts of England.

Starmer used the Queen’s Speech debate in the Commons to joke about his recent showdown with Rayner over her move to a new role, saying a “black belt” in martial arts would be useful for “the next shadow cabinet meeting”.

Boris Johnson jibed that Rayner, whose authority in the party was enhanced by several new roles including shadow first secretary of state, was a “lioness” who was likely to become hungrier “the more titles he feeds her”.

Sitting opposite, she gestured that she had her eyes on the Tory leader, and later wrote on Twitter: “The only title I’m hungry for, Boris Johnson, is Deputy Prime Minister.”