Labour Party / Flickr

What a row over workers’ rights could mean for Keir Starmer

The below content first appeared in’s Politics@Lunch newsletter, sign-up for free here and never miss this daily briefing.

Keir Starmer will face a long-awaited showdown with union bosses later this afternoon amid reports Labour is preparing to water down its proposed workers’ rights reforms.

In recent weeks, it has been widely reported that Labour will scale back its flagship offering on workers’ rights, following lobbying from business — whose support Starmer is well-known to be courting.

As it currently stands, Labour’s “New Deal for Working People” includes proposals to ban zero-hours contracts; end fire and rehire; bring in employee rights — such as sick pay, parental leave, and protection from unfair dismissal — from day one; roll back Conservative legislation restricting industrial action; and make flexible working a right.

Labour has repeatedly pledged to legislate on this package, spearheaded by deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, within 100 days of forming a government. But a leaked version of the new “New Deal”, seen by The Financial Times last week, only commits to “starting the legislative process” within 100 days. The latest version also promises a full consultation on the measures, according to the FT scoop.

With a briefing battle rumbling on in the background, Starmer will sit down with union representatives this afternoon to discuss the reportedly revised package. Sitting by Starmer’s side in the meeting will be Rayner, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves and party chair Anneliese Dodds.

*** is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.***

Policy substance aside for now, this union-Labour showdown will be immensely revealing on multiple fronts: first, consider the role of Rayner, who wrote the proposals in 2021 as shadow secretary of state for the future of work. In recent weeks, the deputy leader of the Labour Party has been on the receiving end of fierce political attacks over her historic living arrangements, as part of a concerted Conservative Party-conservative media campaign. The matter, however — while far from resolved — has arguably seen Rayner emerge strengthened within Labour. Under serious fire, the party at large — and Starmer in particular — has fiercely defended its deputy leader. It’s been viewed as a sign of thawing relations between the two Labour high offices.

Still, while the mood music between Starmer and Rayner has improved in recent months, further revision of the party’s “New Deal” could open up a new front in the cooled conflict. As such, the big question here is whether Rayner will be forced to play the role of Ed Miliband, the shadow energy secretary, who lost the internal Labour argument over the party’s lapsed £28 billion green energy commitment. The key difference here, is that while Miliband is a former holder of high Labour office; Rayner is the party’s elected deputy leader with a parallel mandate to Starmer and her own support base.

Another consideration is the role of Rachel Reeves, who as shadow chancellor has been fighting on the frontline of Labour’s latest “prawn cocktail offensive”. Briefings have suggested that Reeves is privately in favour of revising the proposals — alongside her former shadow Treasury deputy and now-party campaign coordinator, Pat McFadden. Both McFadden and Reeves were also reported to have played a significant role in convincing Starmer to scrap the £28 billion green energy spend target.

And what of the Labour parliamentary party at large, many of whom on the left and “soft left” have enthusiastically backed the New Deal’s proposals? Tensions within the wider Labour family have been febrile after former Tory right-winger Natalie Elphicke defected last week; in this light, might sceptical MPs feel empowered to kick up a fuss on workers’ rights?

Finally, the showdown today will naturally offer some crucial hints as to the state of the relationship between Starmer and the unions. Both privately and publicly, union representatives have been heightening the meeting’s stakes, indicating to media outlets that they are looking for clear assurances over Labour’s commitment to reform. Will what Starmer has in store satisfy or antagonise his union partners?

On top of this, it is also reported that union bosses will raise Elphicke’s defection in the meeting this afternoon. Over the weekend, TUC president Matt Wrack argued that Elphicke’s defection was concerning on account of her support for the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act.

MPs approve ‘risk-based exclusion’ plans

However, Elphicke played a crucial role on Monday night in the vote over whether MPs can be barred from parliament if they are arrested for serious sexual or violent offences. The House of Commons voted yesterday evening, by just 170 to 169, in favour of an amendment by Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain and Labour MP Jess Phillips to exclude parliamentarians at the point of an arrest. More here.

The amendment reworded the initial government motion, which recommended MPs only face a ban if they are charged with a violent or sexual offence. It’s worth watching Phillips’ powerful contribution to the debate here.

The majority of one, by definition, suggests every vote in favour of the amendment was a tiebreaker. But Elphicke’s decision to vote for the proposal has been highlighted as crucial, given it is her first appearance in the division lobby alongside her new Labour colleagues. In short, many doubt she would have swung the same way while still a Conservative MP. Find the full vote breakdown here.

Subscribe to Politics@Lunch

Lunchtime briefing

How every MP voted on risk-based exclusion plans as motion passes by one vote

Grant Shapps says suspending arrested MPs is ‘on the wrong side of natural justice’

Rishi Sunak warns of ‘nuclear escalation’ — the PM’s speech on security in full

Lunchtime soundbite

‘I can’t imagine we’ve ever had two leaders going head to head for who’s going to be the next prime minister, who are, frankly, so boring’

—  Nigel Farage claims Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer are “so boring” that many voters will opt to stay at home at the next general election. Via GB News.

Now try this…

Starmerism is not at war with Blairism
Labour Together’s Josh Simons argues that a focus on serving working people is the golden thread that connects Starmer’s Labour with Tony Blair’s. Via The New Statesman. (Paywall)

Priti Patel is quietly becoming the favourite for next Tory leader
PoliticsHome’s Tom Scotson writes.

Labour lefties hate Keir Starmer’s new friends. He doesn’t care
Politico’s Esther Webber and Agnes Chambre on how the Labour leader is shrugging off complaints about drift to the right as he courts votes.

On this day in 2023:

Minister refuses to rule out TikTok ban on government devices amid security concerns

Subscribe to Politics@Lunch