Labour needs to show what it is for and it needs to do it quickly, according to Andy Burnham. “There can’t be much further delay now in saying ‘this is what we are about’ so that people can get the sense of where the next Labour government would go,” the Greater Manchester mayor told the BBC last night. “That really does have to happen at the annual conference in Liverpool. I would have said it should have started more last year.”
The mayor also became the latest Labour figure to endorse the strikes planned for next week, accusing the government of trying to “demonise” workers and saying it was “entirely right” for RMT members to walk out in the dispute over pay and redundancies. His interview followed reports that Wes Streeting had had to apologise for his remarks (that he would have voted to strike if he were an RMT member) last week.
The leadership’s position has not gone uncriticised. Union leaders, including but not limited to RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, have called for emphatic support from Keir Starmer. And the left within the Parliamentary Labour Party would like to see a clearer endorsement of the union’s position. Barry Gardiner recently wrote for LabourList: “Industrial action is the one real power the worker has: to withdraw her labour when she feels exploited and that her terms and conditions are under attack. Has the Labour Party forgotten that we were born out of disruptive action?”
The line from the leadership is that the party does not want the strikes to happen and that they are avoidable, but that the government has led us to this point by failing to engage with workers and address the underlying concerns. Louise Haigh, Shadow Transport Secretary, said the government would rather “play political games” than reach a resolution. And this is undoubtedly true. It suits the Conservatives fine to have industrial action that it can blame (however spuriously) on the Labour Party – shown by the government tabling a motion simply calling for parliament to condemn the strikes, and spending the entirety of the debate haranguing Haigh into saying the action is wrong.
Elsewhere in Labour news, nominations for candidates seeking to secure a place on the ballot in the race to elect members to Labour’s governing body close today at 12pm. LabourList is tracking the national executive committee elections, so stay tuned for updates.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.