Labour “more divided than ever”? The impact of Andy McDonald’s resignation

Sienna Rodgers
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The last Corbynite shadow cabinet member has quit – in the middle of Labour conference. Andy McDonald took the leadership by surprise yesterday when he informed Keir Starmer via a resignation letter that his position “has become untenable” and said the party is “more divided than ever”. The former Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights and Protections explained that he “wanted to fight for the working people of this country” but “cannot do this as a member of the shadow cabinet”, because he was instructed by Starmer’s office to argue against a £15 minimum wage and statutory sick pay at the living wage in a conference meeting. The dramatic move came just two days after Labour launched an employment rights green paper that he had been working on with Angela Rayner.

The Labour left expressed solidarity with McDonald, with many sharing photos of Starmer alongside McStrikers calling for £15 an hour and a video in which he described that wage as part of “the basics”. Leadership allies were critical of McDonald’s stated reasons for stepping down, particularly pointing out that the new policy package he had just announced included £10 an hour, not £15. “Andy McDonald seems to be resigning over a policy that he wrote,” shadow cabinet member Ian Murray told the BBC last night, before suggesting it may have been “orchestrated”, “sabotage” or “self-interest” and was “probably trying to undermine Keir’s leadership”. It is certainly the case that the leader’s office didn’t see the resignation coming. More interestingly, neither did Angela Rayner, we’re told.

The deputy leader is understood to be pretty annoyed. She wasn’t warned in advance about the resignation, despite having saved McDonald’s job in the May reshuffle. Sceptics have speculated about the real reason McDonald quit: over generally poor relations with the leader’s office, the leadership’s approach to left unions and the rule changes. But Rayner allies have raised another possibility: he may have been “nobbled by John Mac”, the former Shadow Chancellor who is known not to be a fan of Rayner. McDonnell, who backed Richard Burgon over Rayner in the deputy leadership contest last year, has remarked at conference that he believes Rayner “wanted the publicity” for policies developed under the last leadership and by McDonald. It is clear that the whole Labour left has serious problems with Starmer’s leadership, but it is less clear how they will do anything about it while being so divided.

In other Labour conference news, Rachel Reeves delivered an impressive speech that included a pledge to invest £28bn of capital investment in the transition to a green economy for each year of this decade. “I will be Britain’s first green Chancellor,” she declared. Louise Ellman, the former MP for Liverpool Riverside, has rejoined the party. Votes for reps on Labour’s NCC, a disciplinary body, were finely balanced and Labour to Win made progress by gaining two from Momentum-backed candidates. As expected, the proportional representation motion did not pass: despite huge support among local party delegates, affiliates voted it down (though UNISON abstained). And LabourList held another three fringe events, plus what I think was our best karaoke yet under my editorship, which explains why this email is so late… Apologies.

Look out for speeches by Wes Streeting, Jonathan Ashworth, Nick Thomas-Symonds and David Lammy today, how delegates vote on a policy motion advocating a £15 minimum wage and what should be interesting debates on violence against women, Black Lives Matter and more. You can watch it live here. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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