Andy McDonald served as shadow transport secretary under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and shadow secretary of state for employment rights and protections under current Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. He spoke to Channel 4 News after stepping down from the shadow cabinet saying he had quit over a lack of support from his leader over bringing in a £15 an hour minimum wage.
AM: This is a huge matter of principle for me and the most difficult decision I think I’ve ever made in my life, but the nation is facing a crisis. We have the failure of the government to maintain the uplift in universal credit, council tax rises and, ahead of us, National Insurance contribution rises. And for us to not say more about what a national minimum wage should be in these circumstances, I think it’s a failure on our part. I think we’ve got to be clear. £10 an hour was resolved as a position in 2015. We’re here now in 2021. Economic circumstances (have) got so much worse. And I think we’ve got to send a very clear message to the people of this country that their needs are being noted, observed, we’re listening to what they’re saying and we’re going to respond in policy terms in the appropriate way.
CN: How far short, then, do you think, Sir Keir has fallen as a leader?
AM: Well, he’s got to listen to these concerns and we’ve got to be bolder and bigger in what we are saying. And I think he can do this. But at the moment, the voices around him, in my view, prevent him from taking those steps.
CN: And if he doesn’t, do you think he’ll lose the next election?
AM: I think he will listen. He’s a supremely intelligent man, and I just beg him to listen to the representations that are being made and conduct ourselves in a way that listens to the incredible expertise that we have in the movement. People are at the coalface in every sector, and I’m absolutely confident that they will be supporting a position whereby the Labour Party would agree to an hourly national minimum rate of £15 an hour. If he listens to those people, I think we can get to the right place.
CN: You said in your resignation letter, which was really quite a stinging letter, that Labour was more divided than ever under Sir Keir Starmer. Haven’t you just exacerbated those divisions? And where’s your evidence for it anyway?
AM: Well, I’ve tried my best, and I think people across the party will, I hope, recognise that the work that I’ve done serving for Jeremy Corbyn as shadow transport secretary and now for Sir Keir Starmer under the employment brief, there was a commitment to social and economic justice. There were pledges made. And I don’t want to see those in any way eroded or any detraction from them whatsoever. I want to redouble our efforts in that regard, not retreat from them in any way.
CN: A Blairite former minister has tweeted that you’ve done this deliberately to distract from the progress that Sir Keir is making. Is there an element of truth to that? That you’re a Corbynista who’s trying to rock the boat?
AM: No, I reject that. This is a stand I’m taking over a particular issue. I have to stand by what I believe in. And I think we’ve not made the right decision here. I hope it can be corrected and we can get back onto the right path.
CN: And if Sir Keir doesn’t listen to your concerns, should he move aside for someone else? Angela Rayner? Whoever that might be.
CN: I’m not going to comment on that because I recognise that this is going to send shockwaves now. And I’m sorry about that. But it’s up to Keir Starmer to reflect upon what I’m trying to communicate here and think about how we can assuage the fears of people like myself and some of the general secretaries in the trade union movement who I strongly suspect are supporting the position that I’ve adopted in relation to these critically important matters for working people in our country.