Angela Rayner angered by Andy McDonald’s resignation

Labour deputy leader said to have ‘put her neck on the line’ to save shadow employment minister’s job

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has privately expressed anger at the departure of Andy McDonald after he launched a major policy on workers’ rights with her.

McDonald resigned as shadow employment minister on Monday, describing tensions with the leadership that culminated in his refusal to argue against a £15 minimum wage in a meeting with union officials.

On Tuesday afternoon, Labour members passed a motion at conference from the Unite trade union, which includes the demand for a £15 minimum wage, as well as condemning fire-and-rehire practices. A Momentum source said it showed the leader, Keir Starmer, was “increasingly isolated in his opposition to a significant minimum wage increase”, adding: “It’s hard to avoid the conclusion his conference is going from bad to worse.”

The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, attempted to play down the row and said the leadership would keep an open mind on the policy. “We will make an assessment of that, which I think is the responsible thing to do, closer to the general election,” he said.

“Our position is that it should be at least £10, that is what we have made absolutely clear, and, by the way, we are perfectly happy for conference and for the delegates to vote for the motion that is before them today.”

Allies of Rayner said she had been angered McDonald had not told her of his intention to resign when she had believed the pair were close. They said McDonald had not raised any disagreements as they developed a green paper on workers’ rights that demanded an immediate £10 minimum wage.

The two had launched the policy before Rayner’s speech to conference, calling for full flexible working and key rights from day one, including sick pay and parental leave. Multiple sources also suggested on Monday night that Starmer had intended to sack McDonald from the shadow cabinet in the spring during the reshuffle, but Rayner had intervened.

“That is just not a decent way to behave after the deputy leader puts her neck on the line to save your job and then works with you to develop all the policies in the new deal,” one source said. “Don’t try and make it a policy row when you haven’t even tried to change the policy.”

Allies of McDonald have rejected the idea that he timed the resignation, during conference, to cause the maximum damage.

The former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking at a fringe event, which McDonald did not attend although he had originally been scheduled to, said he had held “a series of private conversations” with the former shadow minister, whom he called “a natural collegiate player”.

Corbyn said: “If it had been some deep-laid machiavellian plot to announce a resignation on a particular afternoon, it would have leaked out weeks ago.”

Barry Gardiner, a former shadow minister under Corbyn, also rejected the idea of deliberate disruption by McDonald: “If he’d wanted to cause disruption, rather than make a personal decision, then he’d have been here, grandstanding. That’s not Andy McDonald.”

The Guardian understands activists have plans to disrupt Starmer’s speech on Wednesday to demand a £15 minimum wage.

In his resignation letter to Starmer, McDonald said his role had become untenable and added: “After 18 months of your leadership our movement is more divided than ever and the pledges you made to the membership are not being honoured.”

He said he had been “instructed to go into a meeting and argue against a national minimum wage of £15 an hour and against statutory sick pay at the living wage. This is something I could not do.”

Thomas-Symonds said Starmer was trying to set a very firm direction for the party. “It isn’t about defeating different bits of the party, the party has always been a broad church, but what we are doing is showing a very firm sense of direction under our new leadership,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Keir has shown that very strong sense of direction this week, he has got the rule changes through and we will be getting those policies out to the country now as well.”

Contributors

Jessica Elgot and Peter Walker

The GuardianTramp

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