One of Keir Starmer’s top aides is set to leave. What does it mean?

Sienna Rodgers
© Dominic Dudley/Shutterstock.com

Simon Fletcher, a senior aide to Keir Starmer who was appointed as his strategic adviser for the leadership campaign before being given responsibility for campaigns and election planning in the leader’s office, will be leaving after the May 6th elections.

The news first reported by Owen Jones this afternoon is widely interpreted as a further shift away from the approach taken by Starmer to his leadership campaign, which proudly announced its staff appointments as a clear demonstration of the party unity theme adopted last year. This was a key part of the winning strategy for the internal election.

As LabourList reported in January 2020, in a piece headlined “Leadership frontrunners both appoint pro-Corbyn figures to campaign teams”:

“Frontrunner Keir Starmer has chosen to release his appointments to the press. The campaign is proud of its team because appointees cover the broad spectrum of the party – from Kat Fletcher and Simon Fletcher, who both worked on Corbyn’s 2015 leadership campaign, to Liz Kendall 2015 organiser Morgan McSweeney and Ben Nunn who worked on Owen Smith’s bid.”

When Starmer won the leadership contest, Simon Fletcher got the role of “special adviser (general election)” in the leader’s office. That the senior aide, whose previous jobs include working for Ken Livingstone, Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn, plans to leave after just over a year, and certainly before a general election, will be seen by many on the Labour left as a narrowing of the politics in the leader’s office and an unfortunate loss of experience.

Taking this view, one Labour source told LabourList: “It is a real shame that Simon is leaving given his decades of political experience and acumen. He knows the tripwires of Labour politics and how to build a broad coalition behind progressive politics. These are vital ingredients for Labour’s recovery and they are not in plentiful supply.”

According to Owen Jones, Fletcher’s departure is a sign that Starmer should start pursuing the unity he promised in the 2020 contest. Supporters of the leader, on the other hand, have described the May 6th elections as a referendum on whether Starmer is changing the Labour Party fast enough – which suggests that, far from being reversed, the trend evidenced by this news is likely only to accelerate in the coming months.

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