Starmer rejects claim Labour has never been less united under his leadership

Front bench member resigns after being told to argue motion for increased minimum wage

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer: ‘I didn’t come into politics to vote over and over again in parliament and lose and then tweet about it.’ Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer: ‘I didn’t come into politics to vote over and over again in parliament and lose and then tweet about it.’ Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

 

Keir Starmer has said he prioritises winning elections over uniting his party, as critics accused him of reneging on promises he made to become Labour leader.

Mr Starmer rejected a claim by Andy McDonald, who resigned from the front bench this week, that the party has never been less united than under his leadership but he said his focus was on winning a general election.

“I didn’t come into politics to vote over and over again in parliament and lose and then tweet about it. I came into politics to go into government to change millions of lives for the better. And so that has to be the absolute central focus, it is for me, and it shouldn’t be for every single Labour Party member and supporter,” he told the BBC.

Mr McDonald resigned after he was told to argue against a conference motion calling for the minimum wage to be increased to £15 (€17.40) an hour.

Delegates approved the motion on Tuesday but Mr Starmer said he was sticking to Labour’s current policy of increasing the minimum wage to £10 an hour, 12 per cent more than it is today.

Dismissed complaints

Two years ago, Mr Starmer supported a demand by workers in McDonalds for £15 an hour but he claimed on Tuesday that the restaurant workers’ pay claim could not be compared to the minimum wage.

He also dismissed complaints about his abandonment of a pledge during the leadership contest last year to bring energy companies into public ownership.

“Those commitments I made, those pledges I made are values that I hold dear. The world has changed since they were made but now the question is: how do we apply them in the circumstances we find going into an election?” he said.

“I stand by the principles and the values that are behind the pledges I made to our members. But the most important pledge I made was that I would turn our Labour Party into a party that would be fit for government, capable of winning a general election.”

Mr Starmer will on Wednesday make his leader’s speech to a conference that has been dominated by rows over rule changes he pushed through on Sunday which will make it harder for a left-wing MP to be nominated for the leadership. The changes, which will also make it more difficult for local party members to deselect their MP, have been condemned as an assault on internal democracy but Mr Starmer was unrepentant on Tuesday.

“Two years ago, we were here in Brighton for our Labour Party conference. And within a few short months, we’d crashed to the worst general election results since 1935. I am not prepared to let that happen. And if that means tough decisions, to change our party, which is what I did on Sunday, then I’m going to take those tough decisions.

“There will be some people who don’t agree with those changes. I understand that, we’re a broad church in the Labour Party. But I’m not going to be deflected from my central mission, which is to get a Labour government,” he said.