Labour off the rails: MP's revolt against picket line ban as Starmer faces strike backlash

22 June 2022, 00:34 | Updated: 22 June 2022, 00:47

The Labour party has been divided into chaos as the largest rail strike for a generation caused severe disruption
The Labour party has been divided into chaos as the largest rail strike for a generation caused severe disruption. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Megan Hinton

The Labour party has been divided into chaos as the largest rail strike for a generation caused severe disruption on Tuesday, with more cancellations happening today.

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At least 25 Labour MP's ignored Keir Starmer's disciplinary warnings and joined the picket lines during the first day of strikes but a former adviser to the Labour leader has warned there will be an "explosion" if the party disciplines any frontbenchers.

Whilst senior Labour members including Angela Rayner and Wes Streeting publicly back the strikes, Sir Keir was accused of going into "hiding" after refusing to comment on the industrial dispute.

Sir Keir is considering possible disciplinary action after he reportedly ordered frontbenchers not to join picket lines outside stations, as the country faces the biggest rail strike in a generation.

Kate Osborne, a parliamentary aide to shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle, joined striking workers in Bromley, south-east London, saying: "I'm a trade unionist, I will always stand on the side of the workers."

Labour whip Navendu Mishra also joined a picket line, saying: "As a proud trade unionist, I stand with all workers on our railway network who are taking industrial action to fight for their jobs and keep passengers safe."

Read more: Furious commuter blocks packed bus as week of rail strike havoc begins

It was understood Sir Keir was waiting until the end of the industrial action before instructing chief whip Alan Campbell to deal with disciplinary issues.

Labour did not say whether or not the MPs could lose their frontbench roles as a result, with a spokeswoman saying: "Unlike the Government, our focus is firmly on the public."

A number of other Labour backbench MPs posted on social media from picket lines.

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott tweeted a picture of her with striking workers in Seven Sisters in London, adding "(But don't tell Keir Starmer)" to the caption.

Commuters Face Travel Chaos With Rail and Tube Strikes in London
Commuters Face Travel Chaos With Rail and Tube Strikes in London. Picture: Getty

Ian Lavery, the MP for Wansbeck and a former Labour Party chairman, joined a picket in Morpeth, Northumberland, tweeting: "Solidarity with the @RMTunion today and all days."

Former shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon said: "We can't just keep accepting workers' wages and conditions being driven down so that the profits of the rich are driven up."

Read more: Tube and train strikes 2022: What are the rail strike dates for June and July?

Simon Fletcher, who also advised former leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband, said there has been "a lot of simmering resentment and irritation" over the party's current position.

Mr Fletcher said if people are disciplined for the "simple act of offering solidarity" to those striking, he thinks existing resentment among party ranks will "express itself much more strongly" on a local scale.

Asked what would happen if Sir Keir removed frontbenchers from their jobs, or even took the whip away from them, for joining picket lines, he told LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr: "I think there would be an explosion."

He said there had been "very widespread support" for the RMT union in this particular dispute, pointing to the decision of Labour's Scottish leader, Anas Sarwar, to visit a picket line at Edinburgh Waverley.

"There would be (a) huge explosion if there was disciplinary action threatened against people," he added.

It comes after shadow Treasury chief secretary Pat McFadden told colleagues that joining picket lines in support of striking workers would not resolve the dispute on the railways.

Read more: 'I've had it up to here with this Labour government!' Andrew Marr on rail strikes 'blame game'

Asked what his message to Labour MPs choosing to join the protests would be, he told LBC News: "I would say to them, in the end that's not how this will be resolved.

"It will be resolved by a deal that gets the railways running again, and that's where the political focus should be."

Labour was cautious not to give credibility to the Government's claims it is playing a role in the strikes, but is also coming under pressure from unions to stand up for workers' rights.

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, and the opposition leader will be reluctant to give the Government any more ammunition for that attack.

Instead of giving his unequivocal support to the workers, Sir Keir has sought to blame the Government for the walk-outs, saying he did not want the strikes to go ahead.

But deputy leader Angela Rayner gave her clear backing to the industrial action, tweeting: "Workers have been left with no choice.

"No one takes strike action lightly. I will always defend their absolute right to do so for fairness at work."