“Shut the f*ck up!” That was the message from Labour backbencher Barry Gardiner to his colleagues ahead of a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party last night. You can read his full message to fellow MPs here. He warned that, although held via Zoom, “the selective leaks from inside the ‘virtual room’ and the free commentary from different groupings afterwards to various journalists, lasciviating over the slightest glimpse of conflict will no doubt be the same”. But his colleagues did not take heed, as LabourList has a full rundown of what happened at the PLP.
The meeting was the first since the elections earlier this month, which Starmer described as “mixed” and noted that the Hartlepool by-election defeat was a “bitter disappointment”. It also followed his speech to the first conference of Progressive Britain at the weekend, during which Starmer said the policy review being run by Anneliese Dodds will not use either of the 2017 or 2019 manifestos as a starting point. Reiterating points made to the conference on Sunday, Starmer said Labour must “modernise” to “speak to the Britain of the 2020s and 2030s”, and that “we need to change Labour to change the country”. “That doesn’t mean dropping our radicalism, but it does mean looking to the future,” he told MPs.
He was urged during the session against ditching either the manifestos or his ten leadership campaign pledges. Nadia Whittome told Starmer that it would be a mistake to drop either, and criticised their absence from the May campaign. She blamed the poor results on a “lack of vision” from the party. Similarly, Kim Johnson told the Labour leader that “we need policies we can get behind”. Whittome also warned against triangulation, arguing that “we will never out-Tory the Tories and we shouldn’t try”.
Why does this all matter? ‘Unity, unity, unity,’ was the catchphrase of Starmer’s leadership bid. He told members he could offer the radicalism of Jeremy Corbyn, encompassing some key Corybnite policies in his ten pledges, while making the party electable. The commitments provoked some criticism in Labour circles on social media at the time – both because of what they did include and what was missed out. But they obviously did the trick. Starmer won the contest last year with the support of Corbynsceptic members plus those who had backed his predecessor. He reconfirmed that those pledges were his priorities in October last year. This latest move represents a significant shift from his position as a ‘unity’ figure.
Elsewhere in Westminster, Jonathan Ashworth blamed the government for leaving borders “about as secure as a sieve” throughout the pandemic, arguing that the spread of the ‘Indian variant’ in the UK could have been avoided. He described the delay in placing India on the red list as a “catastrophic misstep” and called for Hancock to provide a “plan now to contain this variant”. Today, MPs are preparing for another day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, this time on affordable and safe housing. Ahead of the session, Labour called on ministers to “act now to save lives and livelihoods” by fixing the cladding crisis. The party has tabled an amendment calling for a legally enforceable deadline of June 2022 for developers to make all homes safe. Stay tuned for updates. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.