Labor MPs who challenged Keir Starmer to appear at the sit-in have been encouraged to issue public apologies or risk disciplinary action, although some shadow cabinet members have urged the Labor leader to drop the case.
Several Vanguard bosses were pictured alongside the striking RMT workers on Tuesday, despite Starmer’s explicit instructions to stay away.
The Guardian understands that some of the rebel representatives involved have been asked to issue a statement explaining their attendance.
A senior party source joked that a junior MP had been asked to claim that they had been “ambushed by a picket line” – referring to an excuse used to explain Boris Johnson’s attendance at his birthday party.
Another source, a member of Parliament, said that the whips “are threatening people at the moment, trying to get them to make an apology.” It is not clear what the consequences will be if they refuse to apologize.
Meanwhile, Starmer is under pressure from some members of his shadow cabinet to drop the threat of disciplinary action.
One shadow minister said it would be “disgraceful” to warn Labor MPs or even fire them for showing solidarity with striking rail workers.
Another shadow cabinet member noted that it was the right decision to encourage MPs to move away from the front lines of strikes, as Labor is trying to look like a future government – but wrong to turn it into a show of force.
A final decision on how to deal with the erring MPs is not expected until after the end of the RMT strikes this week.
Five frontline members defied Starmer’s order, which was issued in a memo from the leader’s office on Monday, telling his shadow government that they should discuss with their teams the need to show “leadership” by staying out.
“Please be reminded that the VPs including PPSs [parliamentary private secretaries] “He should not be in sit-in queues,” the letter said.
At the event, three prosecutors, a state minister who is Alex Sobel, and Whit, Nav Mishra, posted pictures of themselves attending the first of three days of industrial strike on Tuesday.
Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar, who was also pictured alongside striking railway workers, tweeted that the government was to blame for its failure to avert the strike.
Starmer’s deputy, Angela Rayner, a former union representative who has appeared regularly at picket ranks in the past, also tweeted her support for the RMT strike without attending in person, saying “workers were left with no choice.”
Starmer’s decision to order his colleagues to give the picket rows ample space infuriated many Labor MPs.
Some Frontline members have even privately suggested that if any of their colleagues were fired by a Starmer as a result, they would show their anger by attending a picket class themselves.
Starmer was careful to avoid being portrayed by conservatives as a supporter of strikes – the most widespread measure on railroads in three decades.
A labor source said: “The Labor Party led by Qir is on the side of the public and our decisions are motivated by that. Not everyone will like it, and we’re ready for it, but that’s how we’re going to prove ourselves as a serious process, a serious government that’s waiting, and that’s how we’re going to win the election.”
Shadow Transportation Secretary Louise Hay has repeatedly attacked her counterpart, Grant Shapps, for refusing to sit down with both sides and try to negotiate a deal.
The Labor leader has also repeatedly seized opportunities to demonstrate that he is taking a different approach than his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, a staunch supporter of unionism who was often present in the picket ranks. During his first months in office, Starmer’s motto was “New Leadership.”
Upon the Prime Minister’s questions, Starmer put the rail disruptions alongside a series of government failures, including a backlog of passport renewals and canceled flights. He said the government did not “move a finger” to prevent the strikes.