‘Er.. I don’t know the minimum wage’: Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds is left red-faced when asked for the current pay floor as he fends off union demands for it to be nearly DOUBLED from £8.91 per hour to £15 – more than the average UK wage
- Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds struggled over minimum wage
- Unions are forcing vote at Labour conference on raising the level to £15 an hour
- Andy McDonald has quit front bench over Starmer refusing to back the increase
- Growing revolt on Labour Left after leader forced through changes to party rules
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds was left red-faced today as he floundered over the current level of the minimum wage.
The frontbencher struggled as he was asked for the figure – £8.91 per hour – during a round of interviews.
Pushed by LBC radio host Nick Ferrari, Mr Thomas-Symonds said: ‘It’s… certainly it’s below £10 er, Nick, I don’t know off the top of my head.’
Challenged that he probably should have checked the figure amid a row with left-wingers who are calling for it to be hiked to £15 an hour, the MP said: ‘Er, perhaps yes. I’m just being quite honest with you.’
The embarrassing moment came as Keir Starmer allies hit out at ‘planned sabotage’ by Corbynites after Andy McDonald quit the shadow cabinet and unions moved to force a vote on the issue at party conference.
An increase on the scale they want would make the minimum wage for over-23s more than the average wage in the UK – which was £13.68 an hour in 2020.
The leadership is hoping to ignore the motion, which is not binding, but angry left-wingers look determined to use it as an opportunity to vent their fury at Sir Keir after bitter rows over nationalisation and internal rule reforms.
Nick Thomas-Symonds struggled as he was asked for the figure – £8.91 per hour – during a round of interviews today
Andy McDonald (pictured left after his resignation) said his position had been made ‘untenable’ by Sir Keir’s refusal to support the dramatic hike. Jeremy Corbyn (right) has also attacked the leadership
Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said that his colleagues were ‘angry and frustrated’ about the row and accused Mr McDonald of resigning for effect rather than out of principle.
The close ally of Jeremy Corbyn dramatically quit as shadow employment secretary last night saying his position had been made ‘untenable’ by Sir Keir’s refusal to support a £15 per hour minimum wage.
He said he had been ordered to go into a meeting yesterday arguing that the party could not endorse the higher minimum wage and statutory sick pay.
Mr McDonald was cheered to the rafters as he took to the stage at a Tribune rally after quitting and praise the ‘beautiful’ support from members.
Mr Thomas-Symonds tried to cool the row in interviews this morning, saying the leadership was willing to ‘make an assessment’ of whether a £15 minimum wage is viable ahead of the next general election.
‘We will make an assessment of that, which I think is the responsible thing to do, closer to the general election,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
‘Our position is that it should be at least £10, that is what we have made absolutely clear, and by the way we are perfectly happy for conference and for the delegates to vote for the motion that is before them today.’
He added: ‘The point we are making is the commitment is to at least £10 as of today, but we will then make that assessment, we will look at inflation levels, we will look at wage levels, look at the general economic circumstances for the next election, whenever that comes.’
Mr Thomas-Symonds said Sir Keir was trying to ‘face outwards’ to voters rather than fighting to ‘defeat’ the Left.
‘It isn’t about defeating different bits of the party, the party has always been a broad church, but what we are doing is showing a very firm sense of direction under our new leadership,’ he said.
But Mr Murray was less emolient, lashing out at ‘planned sabotage’ by the hard Left.
‘We’re not quite sure why he resigned yesterday, he seems to have said one thing and written another,’ he told BBC Scotland.
‘That looks as if it might be a planned sabotage of conference, rather than it being about any principle.’
He added: ‘This was a policy, don’t forget, that Andy McDonald and the shadow cabinet wrote, he put through shadow cabinet and he launched with much acclaim in the conference hall 48 hours before he resigned.
‘We’re not quite sure why he resigned, but these things happen in politics and we’re all very angry and frustrated that the headlines are being dominated by one person when we should be talking about the big issues of the future.’
Mr Corbyn used an article in the i to accuse Sir Keir of wanting to ‘prop up, not challenge, wealth and power’.
‘There is another way forward, that is based on social justice, and in the policies the majority of people actually want, not what the establishment and its media mouthpieces insist they should want,’ he wrote.
Speaking at a rally, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said it was ‘inconceivable that (Andy McDonald) has to resign’.
He said: ‘I saw someone as I was coming up, I said what do you think of conference and they said what a s**tshow it’s been, it’s falling apart, absolutely.’
His sentiments were echoed by former Labour frontbencher Rebecca Long-Bailey, who told a rally organised by Tribune magazine that she was ‘speechless’ over Mr McDonald’s departure, asking them: ‘If it’s true that we were saying that we shouldn’t advocate for statutory sick pay at the rate of the living wage, then what is the point of the Labour Party?’
Meanwhile at a left-wring rally in Brighton, Labour MP Zarah Sultana criticised the ‘Blairite clique running the show’ and told Labour’s left to continue to push for their policies.
Labour’s current stance is that every worker should have a minimum wage of at least £10 per hour and the while the party has called for an increase for statutory sick pay, it has not stated to what level.
Keir Starmer is facing a fresh assault from the hard-Left today after Andy McDonald quit the shadow cabinet and Corbynites accused the leader of a ‘s**tshow’
Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said: ‘Andy McDonald was the first MP to grasp the CWU’s call for a new deal for workers in the UK.
‘He knows that the balance of forces in society has to change and he knows key workers deserve a minimum wage of £15 an hour… We stand with him.’
The frontbencher’s explosive departure came as former Labour leader Mr Corbyn carried out his own excoriating attack on his successor.
Mr Corbyn used an op-ed in the i newspaper to accuse Sir Keir and his top team of working to ‘prop up, not challenge … wealth and power’.
Sir Keir has pushed through rules making it harder for Corbynite activists to trigger deselection votes for MPs, and raising the number of nominations that a left-winger would need to stand for the leadership in future.
There have also been bruising clashes between moderates and the Left over Angela Rayner’s extraordinary description of Tories as ‘scum’.
Sir Keir has rebuked his deputy – who has her own electoral mandate from members – but she has flatly refused to apologise.
Mr McDonald wrote: ‘Yesterday your office instructed me to go into a meeting to argue against a national minimum wage of £15 per hour and against statutory sick pay at the living wage. This is something I could not do.
‘After many months of a pandemic when we made commitments to stand by key workers I cannot now look those same workers in the eye and tell them they are not worth a wage that is enough to live on, or that they don’t deserve security when they are ill.’
He added: ‘I joined your front bench team on the basis of the pledges that you made in the leadership campaign to bring about unity within the party and maintain our commitment to socialist policies.
‘After 18 months of your leadership our movement is more divided than ever and the pledges you made to the membership are not being honoured. This is just the latest of many.’
The dramatic announcement seemed to blindside the leader and other senior figures. Asked for her reaction at a fringe event, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said: ‘I wasn’t aware that Andy McDonald had resigned from the shadow cabinet but I would like to pay tribute to Andy for the work that he has done with Angela Rayner on workplace rights which were announced at conference on Sunday which was about giving rights to workers on day one, paternity leave, flexible working, to end fire and rehire, to increase the national minimum wage and so much more.
‘So I pay tribute to Andy for the work that he has done in the shadow cabinet in bringing forward those really important policies which make a big difference to working people.’
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