The UK Labour party’s annual conference has been rocked by the resignation of a shadow Cabinet minister, who accused party leader Sir Keir Starmer of dividing the party and abandoning pledges.
Left-winger Andy McDonald said Mr Starmer was not honouring “our commitment to socialist policies” and quit as shadow employment rights secretary on Monday.
Mr McDonald was an ally of the party’s divisive previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
He said he had been instructed to argue against the introduction of a national minimum wage of £15 ($20.56) an hour and against statutory sick pay in the living wage.
“This is something I could not do,” Mr McDonald wrote.
“After many months of a pandemic when we made commitments to stand by key workers, I cannot now look those same workers in the eye and tell them they are not worth a wage that is enough to live on, or that they don’t deserve security when they are ill.
“I joined your front-bench team on the basis of the pledges that you made in the leadership campaign to bring about unity within the party and maintain our commitment to socialist policies.
“After 18 months of your leadership, our movement is more divided than ever and the pledges that you made to the membership are not being honoured. This is just the latest of many.”
Mr Starmer thanked Mr McDonald for his work and said Labour’s “new deal for working people” campaign showed the “scale of our ambition and where our priorities lie”.
“My focus and that of the whole party is on winning the next general election so we can deliver for working people who need a Labour government,” he said.
A shout of “Andy McDonald, solidarity” was applauded and cheered by some Labour members in the main conference hall as news of his resignation circulated.
Mr McDonald, MP for the north-east English town of Middlesbrough, said he had resigned with “deep sadness”.
John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under Mr Corbyn, was among those on Labour’s left praising Mr McDonald when he said he had “resigned on a point of principle that workers should have decent pay”.
At a left-wing rally in Brighton, Labour MP Zarah Sultana criticised the “Blair-ite clique running the show” and told Labour’s left to continue to push for their policies.
Labour’s current policy is that every worker should earn a wage of at least £10 an hour. The party has also called for an increase in statutory sick pay but has not stated to what level it should be raised.
“Andy McDonald was the first MP to grasp the CWU’s call for a new deal for workers in the UK," said Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers' Union.
“He knows that the balance of forces in society has to change and he knows key workers deserve a minimum wage of £15 an hour. We stand with him.”
Labour sources suggested there was no sense of loss in Mr Starmer’s office over Mr McDonald’s resignation.
But the move threatened to overshadow his attempts to use his first in-person party conference as leader to define what a Labour government would look like.
Rows arose earlier in the conference in the seaside city of Brighton, over a proposal to change the rules governing the election of future leaders. It passed, despite opposition from the left.
Mr Starmer also faced criticism from the party’s left after ruling out the nationalisation of energy companies.
And fall-out continued from a speech by his deputy, Angela Rayner, in which she described members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Cabinet as “scum”.
Oliver Dowden, chairman of the ruling Conservatives, seized on Mr McDonald’s resignation and accused Labour MPs of being “divided and fighting among themselves”.
“Now they are even resigning during their own party conference,” Mr Dowden said.
“Labour’s conference gets more chaotic by the minute. How can people trust them to run the country?”
Mr Starmer’s conference had earlier been boosted by the announcement that Dame Louise Ellman, a former MP who quit the party over the anti-Semitism scandal under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, had rejoined the party.
She said she was able to return to her “political home” now that it was “led by a man of principle in whom the British people and Britain’s Jews can have trust”.
Mr McDonald’s resignation also risked drowning out a major announcement that a Labour government would spend £28 billion a year on tackling the climate crisis.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said she wanted to become Britain’s “first green chancellor” and outlined proposals to bring in greener technology.
Ms Reeves appeared at a fringe event shortly after Mr McDonald’s shock move, and said she did not know any of the details behind his decision.
“I pay tribute to Andy McDonald for the great work he has done on the front bench,” she said.