‘Playing the politics’ Lib Dem MP accuses Shapps of ‘disgraceful’ RMT stunt against Labour

Sarah Olney MP, transport spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, slammed the transport secretary for what she claimed was his “disgraceful” treatment of the strikes. Responding to LBC’s Iain Dale’s comparison of Mr Shapp’s treatment of the P&O ferries dispute earlier this year, in which the transport secretary appeared to intervene authoritatively, the Lib Dem MP suggested Mr Shapps was “absolutely refusing” to act over the rail strikes because he thinks it will “damage Labour” by highlighting their relationship with the union. 

Ms Olney said: “I think [Mr Shapps] wants this strike to go ahead because I think he thinks it will damage Labour. 

“And that’s what we really saw this afternoon in the Chamber. He had a list of all the Labour MPs and what their contributions from the RMT had been. 

“So, he is absolutely playing politics on this and I think it is disgraceful. 

“It’s going to be so damaging. I know there is more he could be doing and he is absolutely refusing.”

Mr Shapps fielded questions from MPs today in the House of Commons over the strikes, with several Labour backbenchers demanding he do more. 

The Scottish National Party transport spokesman also brought up the ferries mass firing, suggesting that Mr Shapps apparent disinterest in acting over the rail strikes shows he does “not care for the rights of rail workers”.

Gavin Newlands told the Commons: “The minister in response to P&O’s unacceptable behaviour in replacing staff with agency staff called for the company to be boycotted and called for the company to reverse its decision, now he is planning to legislate to allow agency workers to replace striking staff.

“Why does the minister not care for the rights of rail workers when he appeared to care so deeply for the rights of ferry workers?”

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Mr Newlands also claimed the Government was intentionally “stoking an industrial dispute to force through anti-union laws”.

The transport secretary slammed the accusations as a “great pity” and accused the SNP spokesman of trying to “mislead the public” with the comparison. 

He said there was a “glaring and obvious difference” between the two situations, adding: “For a start, they fired their workers and brought in foreign workers at below the minimum wage, I would have thought that is a fairly obvious difference.”

Mr Shapps added: “It is a great pity to see… Opposition front benches trying to mislead the public into somehow suggesting this is something to do with the P&O situation, it is entirely separate and different.”

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Among the Labour critics, a former shadow chancellor claimed the transport secretary was trying to “provoke a strike”, before Mr Shapps retorted that the Labour MP was “receiving donations” from that very strike. 

John McDonnell told Mr Shapps: “The British public, I believe, expect a Secretary of State not to come in here ranting to provoke a strike but to behave with the dignity and responsibility of the high office that he holds.”

Mr Shapps opened his reply by claiming Mr McDonnell “receives donations from the very union who are going on strike”, with the Labour MP replying: “That’s not true and you know that.”

Mr Shapps later clarified his remarks, following a separate question, and told the Commons: “Perhaps to clear up the exchange just before with (Mr McDonnell), I understand it’s his constituency Labour Party that has received the £30,000 in RMT funding.”

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