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Labour’s chaos over the rail strikes has opened a damaging new rift between Sir Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner.
Party insiders say the Labour leader was furious at Ms Rayner’s decision to give her open backing to last week’s rail shutdown.
One Starmer ally told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Keir is livid – Angela has undermined his leadership and the party’s position on the strikes.’
Sir Keir also came under fire from critics who argue that he was undermining his own position by failing to discipline several frontbenchers who joined the strikers’ picket lines last week.
Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner, takes part in a TUC national demonstration in central London to demand action on the cost of living
Even one Starmer loyalist admitted last night that the party’s picket-line ban had backfired badly.
Relations between Sir Keir and his famously outspoken deputy have been strained ever since his botched attempt to demote Ms Rayner last year.
However, those tensions deepened when Ms Rayner signalled her backing for last week’s rail strikes mounted by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT).
The former trade union official declared that ‘workers have been left with no choice’ – adding that ‘no one takes strike action lightly’.
The stance is understood to have enraged Sir Keir’s office, given that they had already told party frontbenchers that ‘we do not want these strikes to go ahead with the resulting disruption to the public’.
The same message told Labour’s top team to ‘show leadership’ and reminded them that ‘frontbenchers… should not be on picket lines’.
Labour Party MP Diane Abbott speaks during a rally in solidarity with striking railway workers outside King’s Cross Station on the third day of the biggest national rail strike
But the order plunged Sir Keir’s authority into doubt after at least five frontbenchers did appear alongside striking RMT workers but with, as yet, no punishment meted out to them.
One Labour MP said last night: ‘It was a mistake for Keir to issue the picket-line ban in the first place.
‘But if he doesn’t now sack frontbenchers who defied him or punish them in some other way, he will simply look very weak.’
The criticism comes amid anger from Left-wing MPs that Sir Keir – who during the party leadership contest in 2020 boasted that he was a ‘proud trade unionist’ – was now trying to distance himself from the union movement.
John McDonnell speaks to the media at a rally outside Kings Cross station, London, as train services continue to be disrupted following the nationwide strike
It also comes after Labour took aim at respected election expert Sir John Curtice for playing down the significance of the party’s by-election victory in the Red Wall seat of Wakefield last week
Labour took the seat back on a swing of over 12 per cent from the Tories and a jubilant Sir Keir hailed Wakefield as the birthplace of the next Labour government.
But after Sir John warned that ‘the Wakefield result does not suggest any great enthusiasm for the Labour Party’, a source said Labour was furious with the Strathclyde University politics professor.
The source accused the poll guru of also downplaying the party’s performance in the local elections.
Diane Abbott, pictured centre left holding the smaller flag, is pictured at the picket line at the Seven Sisters depot
However, even one Shadow Cabinet Minister confessed last night that the Wakefield result was ‘good but not spectacular’.
Last night, Labour said ‘Keir and Angela are at one’ on the dispute. ‘Keir wants this strike to be brought to an end so everyone can get back to work,’ a spokesman said.
The frontbenchers who appeared on the rail picket lines would be ‘spoken to’, with sources saying Chief Whip Alan Campbell will ‘deal with’ the offending MPs today.