Starmer hit by fresh turmoil at Labour party conference

Labour Party UK updates

Sir Keir Starmer was hit by waves of dissent at the Labour party’s annual conference on Monday as a member of the shadow cabinet resigned and delegates defied the leadership’s line on two foreign policy issues.

Andy McDonald, the shadow employment rights secretary and last hard-left member of Starmer’s shadow cabinet, resigned over differences with the Labour leader over the minimum wage. He had been pushing for the party to adopt a £15 an hour minimum wage but Starmer’s team insisted on keeping the existing policy of backing £10 an hour.

In a resignation letter McDonald said to Starmer: “After 18 months of your leadership our movement is more divided than ever and the pledges you made to the membership are not being honoured.”

Meanwhile, delegates strongly diverged from the Labour leader’s line on both Israel and Aukus — the new Australia, UK, US military alliance — which the Labour leader welcomed earlier this month.

Delegates at Brighton passed a motion at the conference on Monday by 70.35 per cent to 29.65 per cent, describing the military alliance as “a dangerous move that will undermine world peace”.

One senior Labour official said it was “insane” to vote against Aukus when it would bring thousands of potential jobs to UK industry.

Delegates also passed a motion labelling Israel as an apartheid state and committed the Labour party to implementing sanctions and ending the sale of arms to that country. The motion criticised Israel for actions including violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem and illegal settlements.

However, Starmer’s team indicated that the motion would not turn into party policy. “Labour’s policy is for a peaceful, negotiated two-state solution that ensures a sovereign Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure Israel,” said the party.

On Sunday evening, Labour endorsed a new independent complaints process prompted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission report into anti-Semitism in the party. The changes were voted through despite being opposed by Momentum, the leftwing pressure group.

Louise Ellman, a former Labour MP who quit the party over anti-Semitism, announced on Monday that she had rejoined in the wake of the vote.

The internal disputes detracted from the shadow cabinet’s attempts to focus on policy issues and highlight what a Labour government would do in power.

Jim McMahon, shadow transport secretary, called on the government to intervene to protect jobs in the UK’s aviation industry after Labour party analysis showed that tens of thousands of workers were facing a “furlough cliff edge” in just three days.

Passengers in Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. More than 3,000 people work in aviation in Boris Johnson’s west London constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip © REUTERS

The party said it had calculated that 81,000 workers in aviation, aerospace and the wider supply chain risked losing their jobs after September 30 when the “job support scheme” — known as the furlough — is removed.

McMahon pointed out that 3,356 people work in aviation in prime minister Boris Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

“It should be a source of shame for ministers that they have allowed thousands of jobs to be lost in the aviation sector across the country when they promised support, particularly when so many are now staring down the barrel of Boris Johnson’s tax hikes and cuts to universal credit,” he said.

The furlough scheme, set up by chancellor Rishi Sunak at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, paid 80 per cent of the usual wages of those unable to work during the crisis — at a cost of almost £70bn. At the peak of the scheme, it was protecting more than 11.6m workers, almost a third of the entire UK workforce.

Sunak has refused to extend the scheme beyond the end of September, even for sectors, such as aviation, that are still reeling from the crisis.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow home secretary, announced on Monday that a Labour government would roll out community “police hubs” to fight antisocial behaviour.

Thomas-Symonds said a Labour government would “bring back neighbourhood policing” to provide more “eyes, ears and boots on the ground” in communities.

The MP accused the Tories of being “soft on crime and soft on causes of crime” — in a phrase echoing an old catchphrase of Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister.

He said Labour would carry out a recruitment drive to increase the number of volunteer special constables after a decrease since 2010.

Thomas-Symonds accused the Conservatives of cutting police funding by £1.6bn since 2010 while cutting police numbers by about 8,400. “In Tory Britain, people say you never see police on the beat any more,” he said.

Starmer, who is a former director of public prosecutions, is determined to project Britain’s main opposition party as tough on crime, fiscally responsible and patriotic.

John Healey, shadow defence secretary, announced a £35m fund to support British veterans and Afghan interpreters. Healey said the money would be recovered from cancelled interpreter contracts from the Ministry of Defence.

Labour also called on the government to use the autumn spending review to release money previously promised towards encouraging the environmental and health benefits of walking and cycling. The party said that Sunak had so far failed to release the entire £2bn the government had promised towards the infrastructure and support for “active travel”.


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