Frustrations grow at Labour conference as Starmer under pressure to weigh in on fuel crisis

On a day of bad newspaper headlines blaming the government for chaos at petrol stations, many Labour MPs are hoping their leadership will start engaging with the big issue of the day – the fuel crisis. Rocked by a surprise shadow cabinet resignation last night, can they get back to reality?

NHS groups are calling for key workers – including paramedics, carers, and hospital staff – to be prioritised in fuel queues from today.

Follow the latest updates from our political team live from the Labour conference

Embargoed until 0001 Tuesday September 28 (far left) is joined by Labour leader Keir Starmer on Worthing beach after he and Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds met members of the Sussex Police force on a walkabout in Worthing, West Sussex, ahead of Mr Thomas-Symonds' conference speech on Tuesday. Picture date: Monday September 20, 2021.
Image: Labour leader Keir Starmer on Worthing beach

I understand this is very unlikely to be a power the government activates imminently, although they can do if they feel it is a national emergency, because currently they hope panic buying will subside in the coming days.

As ministers keep saying, there is no shortage of fuel, just a supply issue.

Whether readying military tankers, as was announced last night, reassures people or escalates the panic is yet to be seen.

Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds did not join the calls for key workers to be able to jump the queue straight away, but said it should be “looked at”.

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Some senior Labour MPs are frustrated – they want to be making the weather on this issue, and on core issues like crime.

Their focus today is the announcement that Labour would hold a major recruitment drive to boost community policing.

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Party conferences: What’s the point?

But as Sir Keir Starmer prepares to do his key television interviews this afternoon, he still faces questions over the resignation of shadow employment spokesman Andy McDonald and whether he faces ongoing problems with the party’s left.

What all sides agree on, is that Mr McDonald was “the last Corbynite” in Sir Keir’s shadow cabinet.

Although the leader won’t say this himself, his allies are briefing that the resignation is nothing to be upset about.

Pointing out that he quit on the same day Louise Ellman, the former Labour MP who left the party over antisemitism, returned, one told me: “I would call that a good day”.

Those around the leader believe the damaging timing of his departure was part of a calculated attempt by the left to destabilise Sir Keir, rather than genuine desire for a £15 minimum wage.

This is a policy Labour members are set to vote on this afternoon, potentially setting the stage for future disagreements.

The chill wind for the left is also uncomfortable for some party members here, just 18 months after Sir Keir wooed them to win the contest to replace Jeremy Corbyn.

The leadership hopes that internal battles can now be put behind them, and that it’s not too late to cut through on the issues occupying people’s minds outside the conference centre.

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