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Andy McDonald, who was shadow employment secretary, quit on Monday claiming he had been told by the leader’s office to campaign against a £15-an-hour minimum wage and bringing statutory sick pay up to the same level as the living wage.
In a letter sent to Sir Keir, the former frontbencher said making the argument was something he “could not do”.
Current party policy, as part of a “new deal for workers” launched earlier in the conference, is that the minimum wage would rise from £8.91 to at least £10 per hour under a Labour government.
Steve Reed, shadow communities secretary, told the Standard: “The key point here is on Saturday Andy launched the new deal, which included the proposal for a £10 minimum wage. Andy wrote that policy, he launched that policy and then Andy resigned because he didn’t like the policy he had written. It’s a bit strange.
“It looks to me that it was timed to cause maximum disruption and that’s just a shame because conference is really coming together behind Keir. We all need to focus on winning the next election so these sounds off don’t help anyone but our opponents.”
Stephen Kinnock, a shadow foreign minister whose father Neil faced his own fight with the left of the party in the Eighties, added: “Only Andy knows what was in his mind, but looking from the outside, the timing does look like an act of attempting to do damage to Keir. I don’t think it will succeed. There’s no doubt it would have been much better if he had taken some time to consider his position before doing what he did 48 hours before Keir was due to speak.”
Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said the resignation appeared to be “planned sabotage”.
“We’re not quite sure why he resigned yesterday, he seems to have said one thing and written another,” he told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland. “That looks as if it might be a planned sabotage, rather than it being about any principle.”
Delegates at the conference in Brighton were voting today on a motion from the Unite union calling for a £15-an-hour minimum wage and Sir Keir is now facing a fresh battle with Labour’s Left.
MP John Spellar, who has campaigned against the takeover of the party by the hard Left, told the Standard: “They haven’t gone away, there are still a lot of ratbags around but there has been a sizeable shift. They know they are running out of road with the public.”
Diane Abbott, a close ally of former leader Jeremy Corbyn, dismissed the sabotage claims as “nonsense”.
“Andy McDonald is very loyal to the Labour Party. He has served both Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer,” she told the BBC. “And he is very committed to fairness and justice for working people. He is not the sort of person to say anything the leadership wants to keep his job.”
After Mr McDonald’s resignation, MP Zarah Sultana told a rally it was “shameful” he was asked to argue against the wage hike, while Rebecca Long-Bailey — Sir Keir’s Left-wing rival in last year’s leadership contest — said: “If it’s true that we were saying that we shouldn’t advocate for statutory sick pay at the rate of the living wage, then what is the point of the Labour Party?”