The resignation of Andy McDonald, one of the last remaining Corbynites on Labour’s shadow frontbench, is being presented as an embarrassment to the Labour leader. Amid drama in Brighton, McDonald quit as shadow secretary for employment rights.

He claimed he left because he was forced to argue against lifting the minimum wage to £15 an hour. Yet, the leadership think rather differently of McDonald’s motives.

Ian Murray, shadow Scottish secretary, was sent out on the media round on Monday evening and duly castigated McDonald, accusing his former colleague of deliberate “sabotage”. Murray said McDonald  signed off on the policy on Saturday.


By loading the tweet, you agree to Twitter’s privacy policy.
Learn more

Load tweet

McDonald is the first frontbencher to leave a post during conference since Ruth Kelly in 2008. His decision to pull the plug looks like a deliberate attempt to overshadow Starmer.

McDonald did not have the courtesy to tell Starmer before quitting. His exit coincided with a Confederation of British Industry meeting, featuring the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves who earlier in the day delivered her keynote speech. The fringe event started at 5.15pm, just as the letter was leaked. “I wasn’t aware Andy McDonald has resigned from the shadow cabinet,” she told attendees.

Could this be part of a coordinated attempt by the radical left to damage Starmer and eventually even take him down? Could be. It sets up a dividing line with the left and a fight over the £15 an hour minimum wage demand. Within a few minutes of McDonald’s resignation being reported, Jeremy Corbyn published a column in the i with the standfirst: “Labour membership and trade unions are under attack because they want social change.”

There’s another way to look at this development. Losing a Corbynite from the shadow cabinet is good for Starmer. It fits with his claim that he is steadily shifting the party away from the far left and back towards the voters he needs to win over. McDonald’s departure may be only a small sign of the direction of travel, but it’s useful nonetheless.