30 May 2024

Diane Abbott should ‘definitely’ be a Labour candidate says head of Fire Brigades Union


No-one from the Labour frontbench was available to be interviewed, but Matt Wrack is the head of the Fire Brigades Union, affiliated to the Labour Party, and currently president of the Trades Union Congress.

Cathy Newman: Matt Wrack, do you agree with Angela Rayner that Diane Abbott should be allowed to stand for Labour?

Matt Wrack: I absolutely agree with Angela on that point, yes. Look, we’ve got 14 years of this government that has wrecked our public services, stagnated wages, attacked our pensions, and I think millions of people want to go ahead with the election and see the back of the Tories. And instead of messing around with these things, we need to get on. We need to get candidates in place, and Diane Abbott should definitely be one of those candidates.

Cathy Newman: It’s been a huge distraction, hasn’t it, from your message that you’ve just set out there about attacking the Tories? Instead we’re talking about Labour splits, aren’t we?

Matt Wrack: I think, yes, and I think that’s unfortunate, and I hope the Labour Party can pull itself together and get this sorted out because we don’t want that distraction. People want to focus on the issues in the election about building an economy for the future, the issue of workers’ rights, which is a big issue for the trade unions in this election, and some promises that Labour has made about workers’ rights, trade union rights, and rights in the workplace.

So we want to be discussing those things rather than internal Labour Party distractions, but I think Labour Party democracy is important, and yes, I think Diane Abbott should be a candidate and those issues need to be addressed, and the rights of Labour Party members need to be respected in that process. [

Cathy Newman: When you talk about Labour Party democracy, Sir Keir Starmer’s point is that this is all going to plan and no decision has been taken yet, and that’s not a decision for him, the leader. Do you buy that?

Matt Wrack: I hope that is the case. I didn’t create this news story. This appears to be because people have been briefing that Diane Abbott won’t be a candidate, and that’s why there has been a bit of questioning about it and quite a bit of anger about it among Labour Party members, including affiliated unions like mine.

Cathy Newman: So it’s a wound that’s been self-inflicted by the leadership, has it?

‘Let’s just stop messing around’

Matt Wrack: I’m not sure by the leadership, I don’t know. Keir Starmer, as you say, has said that there’s no decision made. Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, has said there’s no reason why Diane Abbott can’t stand. Let’s just stop messing around and get on with it and let Diane Abbott be a candidate.

The quicker that decision is made, the better for everyone, and we can get on with the debate that the members of the public want to see between the Labour Party and the outgoing government. That’s what people want to hear about, what’s going to happen to the economy, jobs, homes and public services.

Cathy Newman: But they do also want to hear about how the party has changed, and Keir Starmer’s point, one-word pledge is change, that the party has changed, and he’s the man who’s changed it. Doesn’t this broader cull, as it were, of left-wing candidates show that to be the case and show swing voters that it’s safe to vote Labour? You attracted a Conservative MP today, for example.

Matt Wrack: I think it’s bizarre that Natalie Natalie Elphicke was welcomed into the Labour Party while Diane Abbott’s future is in question. I think that will not sit well with many Labour voters and Labour Party members or unions like ourselves. Labour claims to be a broad church, it should be a broad church, that there should be a place for dissenting voices, there should be a place for the left, of the trade unionists and so on.

And I hope that is what comes out of the next few days, and the clearest way that could be demonstrated is by Keir Starmer making it clear that Diane Abbott can be a Labour candidate, and I think that would be broadly welcome across the spectrum in the Labour Party as well, by the way.

Cathy Newman: Mark Logan, another former Tory MP. You mentioned Natalie Elphicke. But there’s another one today that says he’ll be voting Labour. That’s a bit of a coup, isn’t it?

Matt Wrack: He’s welcome to vote Labour. Unfortunately, he’s been part of a government that’s been wrecking our economy and wrecking jobs and lives for the past 14 years.

Cathy Newman: Maybe he’s had a Damascene conversion.

‘He can be converted as much as he likes’

Matt Wrack: He can be converted as much as he likes. It doesn’t stop the mess that they’ve made of the economy and of public services and of people’s lives and hopes for the future. Yes, he’s welcome. Obviously we want people who voted Conservative in 2019 to vote Labour this time, and I hope many, many more ordinary people will do so.

The best way of doing that is for Labour to give a clear message of how it’s going to change things for the better, how it’s going to engage. But that does mean making sure that there are different voices heard from the Labour movement.

Cathy Newman: What does it say about Keir Starmer’s ability and strength to run the government – he might be in Number Ten in a few weeks – if he can’t sort of deal decisively, apparently, with these sort of internal machinations?

Matt Wrack: I think in the next couple of days this will be past. I hope that we get past this with Diane Abbott being a candidate and with an end to speculation that anybody on the left has no place in the Labour Party, because that is not the way to build unity. There are a whole range of views in the Labour Party and the Labour movement. I’m from an affiliated union. We want the rights of workers to be central to this election, and that’s what we want to get on with debating and discussing and making the case for.