Top Labour MPs left reeling by colleague’s general strike call
Richard Burgon couldn’t even remember whether he gave Laura Smith a standing ovation.
Labour conference is over and they key players have all emerged unscathed. Jeremy Corbyn’s speech was seen as his best yet by commentators from the FT and The Times, while John McDonnell showed that he is serious about getting power and won rave reviews from pundits and business figures.
“He’s engaging, funny, reassuring, he doesn’t convey a contempt for you in the way Jeremy Corbyn might,” one senior figure in the City told The Times' Rachel Sylvester. “Whether you agree with him or not, he’s setting out an agenda while the Tories are fighting a civil war.”
Shares in Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer will also have gone up after they both performed well in the main hall.
The one obvious mis-step was made by Laura Smith, the little-known MP for Crewe and Nantwich who unwisely backed a general strike to bring down the government.
“If we can't get a general election, we should organise with our brothers and sisters in the trade unions to bring an end to this government with a general strike," she told Momentum’s World Transformed Conference in Liverpool.
Understandably senior Labour figures then did their best to distance the party from their colleague’s gift to the Conservatives.
Speaking on the Today programme, Tom Watson made a bid for euphemism of the conference. "Well, it's not particularly helpful,” said the deputy leader. “But she is a new MP and she was at a big fringe event - nothing to do with the party organisation - and I'm sure she got a little bit carried away.”
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth didn’t bother to hide his bemusement as he was grilled on the gaffe by the BBC’s Jo Coburn. “Members of parliament say things all the time but it’s not the policy of the Labour party to call for a general strike,” he said, with a wry smile creeping across his lips.
A more curious response was provided by shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon, who was caught on camera standing up to applaud the strike call.
“I applauded a fantastic speech by Laura Smith,” he said. “I don’t think a single person gave the speech a standing ovation.”