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Senior Labour MPs have defied Sir Keir Starmer’s plea not to join picket lines during the rail strikes.
At least four members of his shadow team publicly backed RMT workers on Britain’s railways, who began the first of three days of strikes on Tuesday morning over a bitter dispute over pay rises and redundancies. Staff on the London Underground also walked out, with virtually all travel in the capital grinding to a halt.
Sir Keir has not backed the strikes, instead claiming that they are the fault of Government ministers who are seeking to sow division over the issue. However, Labour MPs were told not to join picket lines as the party seeks to distance itself from the RMT.
A leaked memo revealed frontbenchers were told to “show leadership” by the Labour leader’s office and not attend picket lines.
— Kate Osborne MP (@KateOsborneMP) June 21, 2022
Kate Osborne and Paula Barker, both parliamentary private secretaries to shadow ministers, were among those to defy Sir Keir’s call and join picket lines.
Ms Osborne, MP for Jarrow, wrote on Twitter: “The RMT Union have my full support and I’m proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with workers on the picket line.”
Shadow environment minister Alex Sobel and junior whip Nav Mishra also joined striking workers on the picket line.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also took a different view to Sir Keir and expressed “solidarity” with RMT workers, while deputy leader Angela Rayner claimed workers had been “left with no choice”.
A source told The Times that chief whip Alan Campbell would wait until the end of the strikes to discipline senior MPs.
Labour did not say whether or not the MPs could lose their shadow roles as a result, with a spokeswoman saying: “Unlike the Government, our focus is firmly on the public.”
A number of Labour backbench MPs posted on social media from picket lines, including former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and ex-Labour party chairman Ian Lavery.
The Conservatives have sought to use the row to claim Labour is on the side of the striking workers who have caused chaos for millions of commuters. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to Sir Keir on Monday asking him to “personally condemn” the strikes.
But Sir Keir has claimed that Mr Shapps and Prime Minister Boris Johnson “want the strikes to go ahead” so they could “feed off the division”.
“Instead of grown-up conversations to take the heat out of the situation, they are pouring petrol on the fire,” he said on Sunday.
“Instead of bringing people together in the national interest, they are stoking division in their political interest.”