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Sunday 4 June 2023 Dublin: 15°C
PA Keir Starmer
# Explainer
Labour leader Keir Starmer accused of 'own goal' for sacking an MP after he joined a rail picket
The British Labour leader has been accused of turning ‘a Tory transport crisis into a Labour story’.

BRITISH LABOUR LEADER Keir Starmer is struggling to contain a row with the left wing of his party after he sacked an MP for speaking publicly about ongoing rail strikes without permission.

Sam Tarry, who is in a relationship with deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, was fired from his role as a shadow transport minister after publicly backing the strikes and giving a round of media interviews without permission from his party’s headquarters.

The move was met with fury by unions and the left-wing of the party.

Labour has not officially supported the industrial action, but has criticised the government and urged ministers to get involved in negotiations.

Starmer said he sacked Tarry for making up policy “on the hoof,” as he struggled to contain a row with the unions and the left-wing of his party over the move.

Speaking during a visit to Birmingham today, Starmer said: “Sam Tarry was sacked because he booked himself onto media programmes without permission, and then made up policy on the hoof, and that can’t be tolerated in any organisation because we’ve got collective responsibility.”

He added: “The Labour Party will always be on the side of working people, but we need collective responsibility, as any organisation does.”

It is understood the policy Tarry was considered to have fabricated was when he told Sky News every worker should get a pay rise in line with inflation.

Asked if shadow ministers would be allowed to join picket lines in upcoming strikes if they did not make any unauthorised media appearances, Starmer said: “We take each case as it comes.”

‘Own goal’

Condemnation from unions, Labour MPs and other figures arrived shortly after the sacking.

MP for York Central Rachael Maskell called for the Labour leader to visit picket lines on Wednesday night, while GMB general secretary Gary Smith said it was a “huge own goal” for Labour to “turn a Tory transport crisis into a Labour story”.

Former Labour deputy prime minister John Prescott tweeted a photo of himself addressing striking miners when he was shadow transport secretary in 1984.

And speaking to Sky News, former shadow minister John McDonnell described the sacking as a “severe mistake”, accusing Starmer of “misreading the mood of the public”.

The MP for Hayes and Harlington said: “I don’t know who is advising Keir Starmer, but this is a completely unnecessary row that’s been invented just at a time when the Tories are tearing themselves apart, and we’ve got the maximum opportunity I think to gain an advantage in the polls that will build the support to take us into a government.

Asked about the general strike proposed by RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, the Labour former shadow chancellor said: “If you look at the ballots that are taking place across the trade union movement, we are talking about millions of workers now voting for industrial action. So, naturally, what people are saying as well, why not co-ordinate that?”

Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association general secretary Manuel Cortes, RMT boss Mick Lynch and Unite general secretary Sharon Graham all criticised the decision.

Tarry is a former official of the TSSA rail union.

Mick Whelan

Train services in Britain continued to be disrupted this morning following a 24-hour strike which crippled the rail network.

Chaos ensued following disruption of services to Birmingham, where people are travelling for the opening of the Commonwealth Games.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 14 train companies walked out yesterday in a long-running dispute over jobs, pay and conditions.

Talks are expected to resume today but there is little sign of the deadlock being broken.

Strikes will be held on Saturday and next month by the RMT as well as members of the drivers’ union Aslef and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association.

embedded268058974 PA The near-empty station concourse during rush hour at London Euston yesterday PA

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said: “Strikes are always the last resort.

“We don’t want to inconvenience passengers – our friends and families use public transport, too – and we don’t want to lose money by going on strike but we’ve been forced into this position by the companies, who say they have been driven to this by the government.”

Whelan, like Lynch, was born in London to Irish parents.

rail-strikes PA Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan gave evidence to the Transport Committee in the House of Commons yesterday PA

A row broke out between unions and the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps after he laid out plans to curb industrial action, including stopping coordinated industrial action, limiting picketing, and having a cooling off period after strikes.

The RMT and TSSA will hold more strikes on August 18 and 20, while London Underground workers will walk out on August 19.

Strikes are also being held on Friday by BT workers and those at exam board AQA.

Royal Mail workers have voted to strike, while disputes are brewing over the pay of public sector workers including teachers and health employees.

With reporting by Emer Moreau

Press Association
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