Rayner says claims she pushed Starmer into Abbott decision are 'rubbish'

Rayner says claims she pushed Starmer into Abbott decision are 'rubbish'

Angela Rayner has dismissed claims she pushed Sir Keir Starmer into letting Diane Abbott run as a Labour candidate as “rubbish”.

The Labour leader on Friday finally gave the veteran left-winger the green light to stand for his party in the election, after days of questions over her future and party infighting overshadowed his campaign.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has accused Sir Keir of giving in to Ms Rayner, after she first threw her weight behind Ms Abbott’s candidacy.

But Ms Rayner told the Mirror on Saturday: “That is rubbish.

“We both value the contribution that Diane has made to Parliament. So I don’t see any difference. And I certainly don’t push Keir around.

“I respect Keir as the leader of the Labour Party and he’s done a fantastic job. When Keir became leader in 2019, we had suffered our worst defeat and he has changed the Labour Party.

“We’re in a position now where the party is focused on representing the country. Keir is very clear about that and he has got my full support in that.”

As Sir Keir sought to move on from the row by refusing to answer questions on Ms Abbott on Saturday morning, Mr Sunak used it as an attack line in a stump speech.

The Prime Minister criticised his Labour rival for changing his mind after having insisted the decision over Ms Abbott’s candidacy was not up to him.

Launching the Tories’ battle bus on Redcar Racecourse, Mr Sunak said: “Just see what’s happened over this Diane Abbott situation. And it confirms what we know about him: it’s that he doesn’t stick by anything he says, just constantly changes his mind.

General Election campaign 2024
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak accused Sir Keir Starmer of giving in to Angela Rayner (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“And it’s clear that Angela Rayner is in charge of the Labour Party and not him.”

Ms Rayner on Thursday said “I don’t think there’s any reason” why Ms Abbott should not defend her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat on July 4.

On Friday, Sir Keir ended his equivocation by declaring Ms Abbott “free” to stand as a Labour candidate, drawing a line under speculation that she could be barred.

Ms Rayner was on Saturday setting off on a 5,000-mile journey to battleground seats on Labour’s campaign coach in the run-up to polling day.