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Shadow ministers rail against Starmer’s picket-line ban

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

Keir Starmer’s ruling that banned Labour frontbenchers from standing on rail picket lines infuriated many in the shadow cabinet, with one usually loyal lieutenant grumbling that the party’s nervous controller is careering off track. The anger’s spreading faster than the pay disputes. A widely respected former adviser accused the leader of letting “Mandelson’s willing puppets” run the party, turning Labour’s Southside HQ into the dark side. “You’ve got these men in suits, some barely out of short trousers, deciding the future of the party,” screamed Starmer’s unhappy ex-aide, “but their main aim is to rid it of any experience and questioning of what they are doing.” Starmer’s defenders puff that he’s going back to the era of Blairite politics because that’s when Labour won.

Starmer cited rebellious left-winger Nye Bevan at a parliamentary bash to celebrate 100 years of Welsh Labour winning Westminster elections. He noted that the founder of the NHS wrote that lying was an essential part of being a Conservative in his book Why Not Trust the Tories?, so serial fibber Boris Johnson continues an ignoble tradition.

The Labour leader, vexed that shadow cabinet colleagues see him as boring, was outshone at the centenary event by Mark Drakeford, master of the 50-minute soundbite. Yet the First Minister of Wales is also under fire from his own party. His plan, agreed with Plaid Cymru, to increase the Senedd from 60 to 96 seats is generating hostility. Rhondda and Merthyr Tydfil constituency parties, the latter ignoring a personal plea from Drakeford, have come out against the move, while the GMB, Usdaw and Community unions are jointly calling for the expansion to be suspended. Drakeford, in his pomp, is battling for a curious legacy: more jobs for rival politicians who could jeopardise Labour’s dominance in Wales.

Boris Johnson’s decision to prioritise a day trip to Kyiv for another photo opportunity with Volodymyr Zelensky over an afternoon in Doncaster with the Conservatives’ Northern Research Group cost him another vote, whispered a Tory whip. Leaving aside the easily offended MPs’ lack of proportion, Johnson only needs to lose another 31 for a second confidence vote to oust him.

Tories report that jittery International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng fear the axe in any cabinet reshuffle. The only member unworried is Grant Shapps. The Transport Secretary, who has overseen rail and airport chaos, is confident of promotion, I’m informed. Jealous Tories noticed that he was gifted another taxpayer-funded special adviser by No 10, a sure sign Downing Street wants him going places stranded passengers cannot reach.

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Support for street-fighting Angela Rayner is expanding. Without a podium slot at her union Unison’s conference, she spoke instead at a fringe meeting. Raucous Rayner attracted a larger crowd than, oh, Jeremy Corbyn. As her popularity grows, that of Starmer’s recedes.

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This article appears in the 22 Jun 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Britain isn’t working