WATCH: Starmer “doesn’t want” strikes to be about Labour Party, Powell says

Katie Neame

Lucy Powell has said Keir Starmer told Labour frontbenchers not to join picket lines “because he doesn’t want this to be about us” after at least five frontbenchers defied his order and joined striking rail workers on Tuesday.

The Labour leader’s office reportedly sent a message to shadow cabinet members on Monday, which stated: “Please be reminded that frontbenchers including [parliamentary private secretaries] should not be on picket lines.”

In an interview with Sky News this morning, the Shadow Culture Secretary said: “I think Keir issued that advice because he doesn’t want this to be about us. He wants us to be really clear who’s responsible for the breakdown in these negotiations.

“Who’s responsible for not ensuring that people are fairly paid and that these negotiations could come to a resolution and who is trying to politicise these debates and divide the country in this way.”

Asked whether the Labour frontbenchers who defied Starmer’s order and joined picket lines on Tuesday should be sacked, Powell said: “That’s not a matter for me. That’s a matter for the chief whip and Keir Starmer.”

The five frontbenchers who joined picket lines yesterday are Labour whip Navendu Mishra, shadow Northern Ireland parliamentary private secretary (PPS) Kate Osborne, shadow climate PPS Mick Whitley, shadow environment minister Alex Sobel and shadow defence PPS Paula Barker.

Pressed on what it means for Starmer’s leadership that members of his frontbench ignored his request, Powell told viewers: “I’m sure these issues will be looked at.”

“But as I say, this strike is absolutely on the lap on this government. It is their strike, they’ve wanted it to happen, they’ve made sure it happened, they’re relishing in it, they’re gleefully about it, they can’t believe that they’re finally able to stop talking about what they were talking about before,” she added.

Asked whether she supports Labour MPs joining picket lines, the Labour frontbencher said: “That’s a matter for colleagues. Obviously, I’m in the shadow cabinet, I’m in a position of authority.

“I’m seeking to be a cabinet minister in a government, a government-in-waiting. And obviously, were we in government now, we would ourselves be negotiating. And so that’s the sort of position that we have to take in this context.”

Powell said: “It’s been very very clear over the last two or three weeks that this government wants these strikes to happen”.

She accused Justice Secretary Dominic Raab of “goading” unions and workers into industrial action and argued that the government sees the strikes as an “essential part of their general election campaign into the next election”.

“They want to try and make these strikes about Labour. They want to try and make these strikes a way of dividing the country and pitting people against one another. And we’re not going to engage in that,” the Labour frontbencher concluded.

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