Sir Keir Starmer visits Birmingham amid row over sacking of Labour frontbencher

The party sacked shadow frontbencher Sam Tarry after he defied Sir Keir’s ban on joining the pickets in support of striking rail workers.

28 July 2022

Sir Keir Starmer will visit Birmingham today amid a Labour Party row after a frontbencher was fired following media appearances at an RMT picket line on Wednesday.

The party sacked shadow transport minister Sam Tarry after he defied Sir Keir’s ban on frontbenchers joining the pickets in support of striking rail workers.

The party said Mr Tarry had been “removed from the frontbench”, saying it took seriously “any breach of collective responsibility”.

Sir Keir will meet with community leaders and attend the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as debate continues over 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”.

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

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

Mr Tarry stood alongside striking workers at London’s Euston station on Wednesday morning, despite Sir Keir’s orders to stay away from the demonstrations.

A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour Party will always stand up for working people fighting for better pay, terms and conditions at work.

“This isn’t about appearing on a picket line.

“Members of the frontbench sign up to collective responsibility.

“That includes media appearances being approved and speaking to agreed frontbench positions.

“As a government-in-waiting, any breach of collective responsibility is taken extremely seriously and for these reasons Sam Tarry has been removed from the frontbench.”

In a statement, Mr Tarry said it has been a “privilege” to serve on Labour’s top team.

“I remain committed to supporting the striking rail workers, and campaigning for a Labour victory at the next general election, which I will fight for relentlessly from the backbenches,” he added.

Rail passengers were suffering fresh travel chaos on Wednesday after thousands of workers walked out on strike, crippling services across the country.

Industrial action over the summer has proved thorny for the Labour Party, with Sir Keir insisting the Opposition has to “get in the mindset of being in government”, while members of his own frontbench have publicly backed the strikes.

He previously told Beth Rigby Interviews on Sky News: “If you’re in government, this was what I said to my shadow cabinet when we had the discussion… and you’re around the Cabinet table, then you have to resolve these issues, you have to make sure that the negotiations complete successfully.

“You can’t have a Cabinet meeting and then go out onto the picket line.”

Sir Keir said on Tuesday he would again tell his frontbench MPs not to join striking workers in the latest action.

Mr Tarry told Sky News he was “not defying anybody”, but was supporting “40,000 low-paid transport workers”.

He later tweeted a photo that said he was “on the side of the members not the establishment”.

A number of backbench Labour MPs also joined picket lines, including Liverpool West Derby MP Ian Byrne, Brent Central MP Dawn Butler, Birmingham Hall Green MP Tahir Ali, Gateshead MP Ian Mearns and South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck.

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