Keir Starmer’s closest aide, Jenny Chapman, is to be removed from her role as political secretary after significant criticism from MPs, but will move into the shadow cabinet taking responsibility for Brexit.
Chapman’s departure is another major change to Starmer’s top team and follows a sideways move for Starmer’s chief of staff, Morgan McSweeney, and the departure of his two most senior communications staff, Ben Nunn and Paul Ovenden.
Chapman, who is the former MP for Darlington and a shadow Brexit minister under Starmer, is to move into the shadow cabinet to shadow David Frost, who oversees Brexit and trade. “She has wanted to get back onto frontline for ages,” one senior Labour source said.
The move will be formally announced as part of a substantial shakeup of Starmer’s team after the Batley and Spen byelection on 1 July, the Guardian understands.
That is likely to coincide with the arrival of Labour’s new director of strategy, the pollster Deborah Mattinson, who brings long experience, having previously worked for Gordon Brown.
Labour sources say Starmer believes it is a natural moment for change, after a year in the leadership, and as Covid restrictions finally lift.
However, the departure of Chapman and McSweeney’s move follow a series of complaints from MPs that Starmer’s office is aloof and uncommunicative. McSweeney will remain in the leader’s office but will focus attention on rebuilding the party machinery for the next general election.
Despite a barrage of private criticism of Chapman from MPs, Starmer and his closest aides had seemed determined to defend her because of the key role she had played in his leadership campaign. Chapman had once said she would occupy his office until he stood for leader.
MPs blamed her for the decision to make Paul Williams the Hartlepool byelection candidate despite his remainer credentials in the pro-Brexit constituency. Labour humiliatingly lost the seat last month.
“I have never encountered someone so difficult to deal with and I went through the Corbyn years,” one senior official said. “Relations seriously deteriorated over the Liverpool mayoral selection and the Hartlepool selection.”
They also blamed Chapman for some of the disastrous messaging around the reshuffle after the byelection loss, when briefings that Starmer was planning to sack his deputy, Angela Rayner, from her elections role were met with fury by her team.
Rayner emerged with an enhanced role, shadowing Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office as well as a new brief looking at the future of work.
Chapman’s new role would technically sit under Rayner – a move that has caused some amusement among MPs – as Lord Frost is a Cabinet Office minister, although he is known to report directly to the prime minister.