Keir Starmer has told the BBC that “winning” is more important to him than “unity” – but has also declared that Andy McDonald was “wrong” to say the labour movement is now “more divided than it has ever been”.
The former Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights and Protections quit Starmer’s top team on Monday, saying he had been asked by the leadership to oppose a £15 minimum wage and statutory sick pay at the living wage.
McDonald also told the Labour leader in his resignation letter: “After 18 months of your leadership, our movement is more divided than ever and the pledges that you made to the membership are not being honoured. This is just the latest of many.”
In a BBC interview with Laura Kuenssberg today, Starmer was asked whether McDonald was wrong. He replied: “He is wrong about that but my focus is on how we get Labour into a position to win a general election.
“Two years ago, we were here in Brighton for our Labour Party conference. And within a few short months, we’d crashed to the worst general election results since 1935. I am not prepared to let that happen.
“And if that means tough decisions, to change our party, which is what I did on Sunday, then I’m going to take those tough decisions. There will be some people who don’t agree with those changes.”
Asked whether those who disagree should ‘put up, shut up, or go’, Starmer replied: “The conference took decisions on Sunday, very important decisions, we should all accept them, abide by them, and join together in our common intention that we need a Labour government. And that is what I’m utterly focused on.”
It was put to Starmer that he has broken a leadership campaign pledge on supporting public ownership of key industries, after telling The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that he is against nationalising the Big Six energy firms.
The opposition leader replied: “I didn’t make a commitment to nationalisation, I made a commitment to common ownership. They were worlds apart. But the central thing is this: those commitments I made, those pledges I made, are values that I hold dear.
“The world has changed since they were made, but now the question is: how do we apply them in the reflected circumstance we find going into election? But I stand by the principles and the values that are behind the pledges I made to our members.
“But the most important pledge I made was that I would turn our Labour Party into a party that would be fit for government, capable of winning a general election. I’m not going to be deflected from that.”
Asked what is more important to him, unity or winning, Starmer said: “Winning. Winning a general election. I didn’t come into politics to vote over and over again in parliament and lose and then tweet about it.
“I came into politics to go into government to change millions of lives for the better. And so that has to be the absolute central focus, it is for me, and it should be for every single Labour Party member and supporter.”
Starmer was also interviewed by Sky’s Beth Rigby today. Asked about rejecting a £15 minimum wage, despite calling for a £15 minimum for McDonald’s workers in 2019, the Labour leader said the two demands were different from each other.
“What I said in November 2019 was in relation to particular industrial disputes at McDonald’s, where that was the aim of the dispute and I backed them in that and I’d back them again today in relation to that.
“The minimum wage across the whole of the economy is a completely different issue and what we did today to say there should be a £10 minimum wage, that’s a 12% increase, £2,000 a year for working families.”
Asked whether he was happy to see McDonald leave the shadow cabinet, the Labour leader replied: “Has the party changed? Yes it has.” Asked again, he said: “I’m not happy to see him go, I thanked him.”
The Labour leader refused to say whether he was moving the party “away from the left” and to the “centre ground”. Pressed repeatedly on the question, he said: “I come from a working family and I can tell you what we discussed around our kitchen table.
“It was education, it was work, it was health, and it was security in terms of house, and millions of families across the country are not having a debate around the kitchen table around left-right.
“They are having a debate about, ‘Will my children get a decent education? Can they get a job near me that is going to pay well enough? Are we going to have a health service that works if we get ill? And am I secure?’”
Starmer also told Sky News that he and Angela Rayner “talk every day” and “have huge agreements and disagreements”. After the deputy leader called Tory ministers “scum”, he reiterated that it was “not language I would have used”.