Shadow cabinet minister quits after Keir Starmer orders him to oppose higher minimum wage

Andy McDonald says party is ‘more divided than ever’ under Sir Keir

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Monday 27 September 2021 22:21
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Shadow cabinet minister quits after Keir Starmer orders him to oppose higher minimum wage

Keir Starmer has been hit by a shadow cabinet resignation in the middle of his party conference after a row with one of his top team over minimum wage policy.

Andy McDonald, the shadow secretary of state for employment rights, said on Monday afternoon his position on Sir Keir’s front bench was “untenable” and that he could no longer work for the party leader.

In his resignation letter Mr McDonald said Sir Keir’s office had “instructed” him “to go into a meeting to argue against a national minimum wage of £15 an hour and against statutory sick pay at the living wage”.

Mr McDonald said this was “something I could not do”. He warned that Labour was “more divided than ever” under Sir Keir’s leadership.

The resignation is a blow for the Labour leader who was hoping to turn the page on a row with the party’s left wing that characterised the first part of the conference.

Sir Keir kicked off the conference with a defeat on plans to end one member, one vote for Labour leadership elections, but narrowly passed alternative changes to Labour rules that will make it harder for MPs with less support from their colleagues to get on the ballot.

During negotiations with trade unions over the rule changes Sir Keir was reportedly taken to task by union leaders for not backing a £15 minimum wage.

The party says it wants a £10 minimum wage at least, around a £1 increase from the existing £8.91, though the rate may have already risen closer to that level by the next general election.

Mr McDonald told reporters outside Labour conference in Brighton: “It was a compositing meeting yesterday when the membership and the unions were promoting [a £15 minimum wage] and to be asked to defend the position and not support what the party and unions wanted to do is something I couldn't in all conscience sustain.

“This is what we should be doing. Is it really unreasonable to expect people going to work, our key workers not to have the level of pay and to be able to sustain their position?"

In his resignation letter, Mr McDonald continued: “After many months of a pandemic when we made commitments to stand by key workers, I cannot now look those same workers in the eye and tell them they are not worth a wage that is enough to live on, or that they don’t deserve security when they are ill.

“We live in a time when the people of this country have a renewed awareness of how important the work done by millions of low-paid workers truly is. To have the Labour Party, the party of working people, fail to realise that is a bitter blow.

“I joined your frontbench team on the basis of the pledges that you made in the leadership campaign to bring about unity within the party and maintain our commitment to socialist policies.

“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.

“I am immensely proud of the work my team has done to produce Labour’s employment rights green paper, which was unveiled earlier this week. I will continue working with comrades across the movement to ensure that this agenda is delivered.

“I look forward to being free to fight for the working people of this country from the back benches.”

Repsonding to the resignation, Sir Keir said: “I want to thank Andy for his service in the shadow cabinet.

“Labour’s comprehensive new deal for working people shows the scale of our ambition and where our priorities lie.

“My focus and that of the whole party is on winning the next general election so we can deliver for working people who need a Labour government.”

Mish Rahman a Labour NEC member from the left of the party, said that “during the leadership election, it seemed like Starmer understood this” but said “this resignation proves he does not”.

He added: “By asking a shadow minister to argue against a higher minimum wage and decent sick pay he has demonstrated just how put of touch he is with working people.”

Reacting to the news, Conservative chairman Oliver Dowden said that Labour were “divided and fighting among themselves”.

Mr Dowden said: “Now they are even resigning during their own party conference! Labour’s conference gets more chaotic by the minute. How can people trust them to run the country?”

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