Keir Starmer Accused Of U-Turn After Lisa Nandy Allowed To Join Picket Line

The Labour leader is under pressure over his stance on the party's approach to striking workers.
Keir Starmer has said: “The Labour Party in opposition needs to be the Labour Party in power and a government doesn’t go on picket lines.”
Keir Starmer has said: “The Labour Party in opposition needs to be the Labour Party in power and a government doesn’t go on picket lines.”
Christopher Furlong via Getty Images

Keir Starmer has been accused of a U-turn over Labour’s support for strikes after Lisa Nandy was seen attending a picket line.

Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, joined strikers from the Communication and Workers Union in Wigan in apparent defiance of Starmer’s order for frontbenchers not to join worker protests.

It is understood that she informed Starmer’s office in advance and was not told not to attend.

Last week, Starmer angered unions and left-wing MPs with his decision to sack Sam Tarry, a shadow transport minister, after he appeared on an RMT picket line at Euston station.

The day before, Starmer said: “The Labour Party in opposition needs to be the Labour party in power and a government doesn’t go on picket lines.”

Labour insisted that Tarry was not sacked for joining the picket line but for going on TV without permission and for “making policy up on the hoof” during the interviews.

Nandy’s appearance on the Wigan picket line today seemed to be another challenge to the leader’s authority.

An ally of Nandy told HuffPost UK that Starmer’s office was “aware in advance” that she would be attending the picket line.

“She went down to show her support for constituents campaigning for better pay and conditions at a really tough time, as you’d expect,” they said.

Meanwhile, shadow employment minister Imran Hussain was also seen on a Bradford picket line.

Momentum, the leftwing campaign group that supported Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, tweeted: “Today’s U-turn exposes Starmer’s anti-left agenda.

“When socialist MPs attend picket lines, they get sacked. But when it suits the leadership, shadow ministers can fulfil their duty to attend picket lines without any consequence.”

Union leaders have called on Labour to back striking workers ahead of a “summer of discontent”, with a wave of strike action planned across the country.

Tens of thousands of rail workers are set to walk out on August 13, 18 and 20, while London Underground workers will also strike on August 19.

Sharon Graham, the Unite general secretary, accused Labour of “sticking two fingers up to working people” while Mick Lynch of the RMT union said Starmer was “playing up to the agenda of Liz Truss and others”.

“It is undoubtedly the fact that Labour is becoming more and more irrelevant to workers,” Graham told the Observer.

“It’s unfortunate, but it is a fact. What’s required right now is for the party that is there for workers stands up and to stop being embarrassed to be the party for workers.”

In an article for the Sunday Mirror, Starmer wrote: “I completely understand why people are going on strike to secure better pay and better conditions. I support their right to do so.

“I am now leading a Labour Party that wants to change lives and give Britain the fresh start it needs.

“That means turning from a party of protest into a party that can win power - then hand that power to working people. I make no apologies for that.”

One Labour MP said Nandy was “100 per cent right” to be joining her local picket line and called on Starmer’s office to change their approach.

“We are in a spiralling cost of living crisis and we need to vocally support workers,” they told HuffPost UK.

“I hope this signals a shift by the leader of the opposition’s office who clearly have been on the wrong side of this issue.

“They seem to be desperately distancing themselves from their previous position, hoping to spin that Tarry was not sacked for being at a picket.

“I think they’ve realised the damage they’ve done and mistake they have made but it remains to be seen if they will work with and gain the trust of working people demanding better. We need more Lisa’s.”

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment.

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