General strike is not Labour policy, says frontbencher

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A Labour frontbencher has insisted that a general strike is not party policy, after an MP won a standing ovation by advocating a nationwide walk-out to topple the Government.

Crewe and Nantwich MP Laura Smith said Labour should join with trade unions to mount a general strike if Prime Minister Theresa May refused to call a general election.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon was among those filmed rising to their feet to applaud Ms Smith’s demand.

But he later insisted: “I didn’t lead a standing ovation. I stood up and clapped her speech.

“I applauded every speech and Laura’s speech was fantastic. It was a very powerful speech, saying many things.”

Mr Burgon told Sky News: “A general strike isn’t Labour policy, it’s not TUC policy. It’s not going to happen.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his top team have made loud demands for an early general election throughout the party’s annual conference in Liverpool.

But the Prime Minister said it would not be in the national interest to hold a general election before Brexit Day on March 29.

Speaking to a meeting of the Socialist Campaign Group at the Momentum festival on the fringe of the Liverpool gathering, Ms Smith said: “Today we’ve heard calls for a true people’s vote. A general election.

“Comrades, we must topple this cruel and callous Tory Government as soon as we can. And 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.”

Mr Burgon, who was seated alongside Ms Smith on the podium, joined other audience members in rising to his feet and clapping amid loud and sustained applause.

After the applause died down, Ms Smith commented: “That went better than I thought it would’ve gone.”

Conservative MP Andrea Jenkyns responded: “So Labour want to stage a general strike to bring down our Government.

“A nationwide workers’ walkout will bring the country to a standstill. Labour are using the general public as pawns in their political game-playing. Appalling.”

Centrist Labour MP Wes Streeting said: “The winter of discontent didn’t do much good – for the Labour Party, for the labour movement or the people who rely on us.

“Pleasing the crowd is not the same as pleasing the country. Great policies, not cheap clap lines, will secure a Labour government.”

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson suggested that Ms Smith “got a little bit carried away”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Watson said: “Well, it’s not particularly helpful, 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.”

An eight-day general strike co-ordinated by the Trades Union Congress took place in support of coal miners in 1926.

The Conservative government of Stanley Baldwin remained in power, although the strike had not expressly intended to unseat him.

A general strike today would need the major unions to take co-operative action in organising a mass walkout.

Under the Fixed-Term Parliament Act, no general election is due to be held until 2022.

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