Keir Starmer went into hiding today as left-wingers goneaded that he is powerless to stop them flaunting support for rail strikes.
The leader’s desperate efforts to avoid taking a side in the industrial action crippling the country were mocked as his own troops defied him.
Shadow environment minister Alex Sobel, Kate Osborne, an aid to shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Kyle, and Whip Navendu Mishra were among those pictured on picket lines. Paula Barker, an aid on the defense team, also posed to demonstrate her endorsement.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar was photographed backing striking workers north of the border. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said he was not issuing similar orders to his AMs.
Angela Rayner inflamed the tensions further by tweeting that rail workers had ‘no choice’ about taking industrial action.
The party’s union paymasters have reacted with fury after Sir Keir banned frontbenchers from showing solidarity with rail workers outside stations, demanding he gets ‘on the side of workers’.
Sir Keir did not even tweet about the strike today, and is thought to be waiting until after the end of the strike action to make a decision on disciplinary action.
Asked whether people would be punished, shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden told Sky News: ‘That’s a matter for the whips and for Keir Starmer.’
But former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott swiped: ‘What is Keir Starmer going to do, remove Anas as leader?’
Keir Starmer’s desperate efforts to avoid taking a side in the industrial action crippling the country are in tatters with his own troops defying him
Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar today met with striking RMT workers outside Edinburgh Waverley station
Shadow environment minister Alex Sobel was spotted on the RMT picket line today despite Sir Keir’s edict
Kate Osborne, an aid to shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Kyle, posted photos of herself backing the RMT today
Opposition Whip Navendu Mishra joined a picket line, saying he was ‘a proud trade unionist’
Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar was also photographed giving support
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott swiped at Sir Keir over the strikes row today
Beth Winter MP posted photographs of herself supporting striking rail workers today
Thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators are walking out today, Thursday and Saturday, in the worst wave of industrial action on the railways for a generation.
Under one in five trains are expected to run on strike days, and only for about 11 hours – with warnings vital medical procedures and exams will be disrupted.
The RMT and Unite are also holding a 24-hour walkout on London Underground which will cause huge disruption to the Tube.
Ministers and train companies insisted they have offered a 4 per cent pay package – including 1 per cent linked to productivity improvements – and Boris Johnson has warned that higher rises would merely fuel rampant inflation.
However, the RMT is insisting the minimum it will accept is 7 per cent.
A leaked memo from Sir Keir’s office said shadow cabinet members ‘should not be on picket lines’, and asked them to speak to team members to remind them of this.
But Labor MP Ian Lavery was among many boasting that he was backing the strikes today.
‘Solidarity with the @RMT today and all days,’ he posted along with a photograph of him on picket lines in Morpeth.
Ms Rayner posted: ‘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.
‘The PM needs to do his own job. His Government caused this. Now they must solve it.’
Asked in the Senedd if he was ordering AMs not to join pickets, Mr Drakeford said: ‘No inhibition exists on members of my group demonstrating their support for the trade union movement.’
However, he conceded that Sir Keir was in a ‘very different position’ and had to stop the Conservatives ‘portraying this as somehow an example of the country returning to days which have been left far behind’.
Tory chair Oliver Dowden tweeted in response to Mr Mishra’s photograph: ‘Nothing to see here, just a Labor whip joining a picket line as millions of people have their lives disrupted. When we say these are Labor’s strikes, this is exactly what we mean.’
Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, lashed out at Labor over the reports regarding the leaked memo.
She said: ‘The Labor Party was founded by the trade unions and we expect Labor MPs to defend workers, by words and by actions. To instruct Labor MPs not to be on picket lines with workers speaks volumes.
Labor MP Ian Lavery was among many boasting that he was backing the strikes today
A number of Labor MPs joined the pickets at Victoria Station in London. Politicians often have flats near Westminster where they stay during the week, and that are within easy walking distance of Victoria
A slew of Labor MPs voiced support for the RMT action despite Sir Keir’s pleas
Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, lashed out at Labor over the reports regarding the leaked memo
Tory chair Oliver Dowden tweeted in response to Mr Mishra’s photograph
‘You don’t lead by hiding. No-one respects that. It’s time to decide whose side you are on. Workers or bad bosses?’
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said: ‘This is ridiculous nonsense from the party which was created by trade unions. Solidarity is what our movement is all about.’
The memo, seen by Politics Home, said frontbenchers should ‘expect severe disruption this week as the result of industrial action by the RMT’.
‘We have robust lines. We do not want to see these strikes to go ahead with the resulting disruption to the public. The government have failed to engage in any negotiations,’ it said.
‘However, we also must show leadership and to that end, please be reminded that frontbenchers including (parliamentary private secretaries) should not be on picket lines.
‘Please speak to all the members of your team to remind them of this and confirm with me that you have done so.’
Labor declined to comment.
Left-wingers Dan Carden and Jon Trickett also took to Twitter backing the strikes today
The Keir defiers: Gang of hardline MPs turn up to help picket at London Victoria
A gang of hardline Labor MPs turned up to support striking rail workers London Victoria station today.
Despite Keir Starmer’s pleas for politicians to stay away from pickets, left-wingers put on a show of force.
One group photograph posted by the MPs showed Rachel Maskell, Dan Carden, Paula Barker, Zara Sultana, Kim Johnson, Beth Winter, Ian Mearns, Richard Burgon and Rebecca Long-Bailey.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Navendu Mishra also joined the protests at Victoria at other times.
Labor MPs on the picket line at Victoria today included Beth Winter (second from left), Kim Johnson (third from left), Rachel Maskell (fourth from left), Ian Mearns (fifth from left), Paula Barker (right), Dan Carden (second from right) Rebecca Long-Bailey (third from right), Zara Sultana (fifth from right) and Richard Burgon (seventh from right)