Starmer’s life story, Unite and GMB news, plus Tory aid budget rebellion

Sienna Rodgers
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LabourList is back, as MPs also return to the House of Commons today with the end of parliamentary recess. We hope you have missed us. And what have we missed in the meantime? Keir Starmer’s Life Stories interview with Piers Morgan allowed the Labour leader to reveal himself to the public, showing real emotion when talking about his family and doing so in front of a live audience, a rarity during the pandemic. It was not Political with a capital ‘P’, and was never going to be, so Labour’s ‘vision’ problem was not addressed. But viewers were likely to have come away feeling they knew the opposition leader a little better, which is what Starmer’s team will have wanted after more than a year of cabinet ministers being regulars on telly.

The bigger news related to the wider labour movement, as Margaret Hodge MP reported Unite the Union to the police, alleging that the party’s biggest donor failed to declare spending on campaigns against Jeremy Corbyn critics within Labour. Howard Beckett, Unite’s assistant general secretary and a contender in the race to succeed Len McCluskey as head of the union, told Newsnight there were “no payments made” and described the story as a “political stunt”. This development came amid a crucial leadership contest that could dramatically change the union’s direction and its relationship with Labour. The branch nominations deadline is tonight and all four candidates have already secured the required number to be on the ballot, according to Paul Waugh. In that case, the question is whether one or two from the left will drop out.

The GMB union, another key Labour affiliate, elected Gary Smith as its new general secretary. It was a clear victory, with Smith receiving more than 50% of votes, as Rehana Azam placed second and Giovanna Holt third. Journalists appeared mostly to react to the result by pointing out that this will be a boost for Starmer. But, for many women in the movement, more important than the purely factional aspect is that the union has chosen another male regional secretary for the top job. This is despite the Monaghan report last year, which found the GMB to be institutionally sexist. While Smith has pledged to oversee the implementation of the report’s recommendations, it is difficult not to conclude that his election raises further questions, particularly in light of LabourList’s story from April. Starmer will address GMB Congress this afternoon.

This brings us to today. The main story is that Boris Johnson could suffer a defeat this evening: Tory rebels (who aren’t really rebels at all, as they are going by the 2019 Conservative manifesto) threaten to force the government to maintain the 0.7% international aid target, rather than reduce it to 0.5% as announced by Rishi Sunak in November. Whether the rebellion succeeds depends on whether the relevant amendment is picked by the Speaker and then on whether some compromise is reached before the vote. Ahead of the G7, Labour is pushing for debt relief for poorer nations as well as this reversal of the aid budget move. The decision to cut the budget in the middle of a pandemic “risks lives”, Preet Kaur Gill has said, urging the government to “stop its retreat from the world stage, do the right thing and reinstate our commitment to 0.7%”. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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