Keir Starmer hits back after sacking shadow minister for making up policy 'on the hoof'

28 July 2022, 15:43 | Updated: 28 July 2022, 15:57

Sir Keir Starmer hit back amid the row over the sacking of Sam Tarry
Sir Keir Starmer hit back amid the row over the sacking of Sam Tarry. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Sir Keir Starmer has hit back following the sacking of former shadow minister Sam Tarry amid a furious row with the unions and left-wing of his party over the move.

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The Labour leader fired Mr Tarry from his role as a shadow transport minister after he gave a round of broadcast interviews from the picket line that were unauthorised by party headquarters.

Sir Keir today accused him of making up policy "on the hoof", adding his behaviour "can't be tolerated".

It came as thousands of rail workers walked out on strike on Wednesday, crippling services across the country.

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Sir Keir said: "Sam Tarry was sacked because he booked himself onto media programmes without permission, and then made up policy on the hoof, and that can't be tolerated in any organisation because we've got collective responsibility.

"So that was relatively straightforward."

Speaking during a visit to Birmingham, he added: "The Labour Party will always be on the side of working people, but we need collective responsibility, as any organisation does."

It is understood the policy Mr Tarry was considered to have fabricated was that every worker should get a pay rise in line with inflation.

Asked if shadow ministers would be allowed to join picket lines in upcoming strikes if they did not make any unauthorised media appearances, Sir Keir said: "We take each case as it comes.

"My criticism is really of the Government because it's inevitable, I think, when you've got a cost-of-living crisis, that so many working people are concerned about their wages. I understand that, I understand the concerns."

Labour has not officially supported the industrial action, but has accused the Government of inaction and urged ministers to get involved in negotiations.

Labour former shadow chancellor John McDonnell described Mr Tarry's sacking as a "severe mistake", accused Sir Keir of "misreading the mood of the public" and backed calls for a general strike.

"This is a completely unnecessary row that's been invented just at a time when the Tories are tearing themselves apart, and we've got the maximum opportunity I think to gain an advantage in the polls," he told Sky News.

Sir Keir said it was "quite right" for trade unions to "stick up for their members" when asked whether he would agree with strike action if Liz Truss goes through with her pledge to crack down on the unions should she become prime minister.

Calling Ms Truss's policy "completely wrong", the Labour leader told reporters: "Of course, trade unions are right to stick up for support and negotiate on behalf of their members. I'm fully supportive of that, working with our trade unions."

The firing of Mr Tarry, who is in a relationship with deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, drew condemnation from unions, Labour MPs and other party figures.

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".

Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) general secretary Manuel Cortes, RMT boss Mick Lynch and Unite general secretary Sharon Graham all criticised Sir Keir's decision.

Mr Tarry is a former official of the TSSA rail union.

Asked if he is worried about the prospect of the Unite union withdrawing their funding from the Labour Party, Sir Keir said the relationship between the two "is historic, it is present, and it will be the future of the Labour Party".

In a statement, Mr Tarry said it had 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 said.

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