A staunch ally of Jeremy Corbyn has quit Labour’s frontbench in mutual agreement with the leader after freelancing on policy outside his brief by suggesting doubling of council tax on better-off homes.
Chris Williamson leaves his role as shadow fire and emergency services minister in what a source said was a “mutual decision” with Mr Corbyn to allow him to campaign on a broader range of issues.
His council tax plan was seized on by the Tories, who mocked up an image featuring the MP and the message “I want to double your council tax”, posting it on social media.
The Derby North MP has been a controversial figure since winning his seat back from the Tories at June’s snap election after a visit from Mr Corbyn during the campaign.
In August he attracted criticism for speaking out against US sanctions on Venezuela as the Labour leader faced huge pressure to condemn socialist president Nicolas Maduro’s regime for attempting to assume nearly unlimited powers and detaining opposition figures.
Later that month, Mr Corbyn was also forced to dismiss Mr Williamson’s suggestion of women-only train carriages to combat increasing sexual violence on public transport.
Jeremy Corbyn visited Chris Williamson in his Derby North constituency during the June election campaign (Danny Lawson/PA)
Mr Williamson said: “I will be standing down from my role with immediate effect so that I can return to the backbenches, where I will be campaigning on a broader range of issues.
“I will continue to loyally support the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn from the backbenches and hope to be a voice for the party’s members.”
Mr Corbyn said: “I am grateful for Chris’s work on the frontbench, particularly on fire safety following the appalling Grenfell Tower fire.
“I know that on the backbenches, Chris will be a strong campaigner on a range of crucial issues as well as serving his constituents with dedication.”
Under Mr Williamson’s council tax initiative, the levy could be frozen for properties in Bands A to C, with a progressive rise after that leading to a 20% increase for Band D homes valued between £68,000 to £88,000, and a 100% hike for Band H ones worth more than £320,000.
He stressed the plan was not Labour Party policy and would need to be backed in local referendums before it was introduced.
Mr Williamson told HuffPost UK that the “differential progressive council tax” idea was conceived out of frustration at local authority cuts to generate income to fund services.
Revealing the plan on Wednesday, he told HuffPost UK: “You can imagine the Daily Mail and Daily Express would go to town on a proposition like this.
“It’s not a panacea, it’s a response to a terrible situation. I think it’s an argument that could be won.
“This is not Labour Party policy, it’s an idea I came up with at a local level and it’s got a little bit of traction in other parts of the country. It’s a reaction to an emergency that local government has been placed in.”
It is understood that Mr Williamson’s role and other vacant junior positions on Labour’s frontbench will be filled by Mr Corbyn in due course.