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Keir Starmer is facing a leadership crisis over his decision to ban Labour frontbenchers from appearing on picket lines, HuffPost UK has learned.
Allies say it is “a dangerous moment” for the party leader after the edict was challenged by several shadow ministers.
The decision to let shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy attend a picket line in her Wigan constituency last Monday has also angered senior party figures.
One shadow cabinet member said: “People think the policy of not going on picket lines was cack-handed and not thought through.
“They didn’t have a clear idea of what they were going to do when frontbenchers broke the instruction.”
The leader’s office sent an email to members of the shadow cabinet in June ordering them to tell their teams not to join pro-strike demonstrations held during that month’s train strikes.
But some frontbenchers - including Labour whip Navendu Mishra - openly defied the instruction.
The row erupted again last month when shadow transport minister Sam Tarry was sacked after appearing on an RMT picket line.
However, Starmer said he was axed from the frontbench for doing a round of broadcast interviews without permission and “making up policy on the hoof”.
It is understood that Nandy - who was beaten to the leadership by Starmer in 2020 - informed Sam White, Starmer’s chief of staff, in advance that she would be meeting striking members of the Communication Workers Union on a picket line in Wigan.
A source close to Nandy said: “She went down to show her support for constituents campaigning for better pay and conditions at a really tough time, as you’d expect.”
But HuffPost UK understands the decision to allow her to go ahead with the picket line visit has baffled senior party figures.
One senior MP said: “She says she rang Sam White, who told her she could go to the picket line. The big question for him is why did he not say don’t do it?”
It is understood that White, as well as Starmer, were both on holiday when the row over Nandy’s picket line appearance erupted.
A Labour source said: “Nobody forced Keir to choose this issue as the big test of his authority, but he did and his authority has been tested by junior frontbenchers and his opponent in the last leadership election and he is not doing anything about it.
“His office was floundering in terms of its response. It was a total shit show.
“Then when people are trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on, no-one is around to deal with it.”
Another MP said: “Keir’s been through scrapes before but this is a game changer — he’s taken on the entire trade union movement.
“People are always on manoeuvres but Keir undermines his authority by taking short-sighted positions. A lot of people think it can’t go on like this.”
A source close to Starmer said the policy banning shadow ministers from going on picket lines “has not changed”.
They added: “In Sam’s defence, it’s not illogical for the chief of staff to take holiday the same time as the leader.”
Nandy’s team’s version of events is also disputed by figures close to Starmer, who say they were surprised to see pictures of her on the CWU picket line appear on social media last Monday.
But with the general election less than two years away, and a crunch party conference in Liverpool next month, Labour insiders say the issue has severely damaged Starmer’s authority.
“I think it’s a dangerous moment for Keir,” said one MP. “The whole thing is just a mess and I don’t see it being resolved. It will be cast a very long shadow and has the potential to derail conference.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.