Labour 'totally rejects' criticism from union leader that it is '1990s tribute act'

A Labour frontbencher has "totally rejected" criticism from a top union leader that the party has become a "tribute act" to Tony Blair with no radical policies.

Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News' Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips he was "immensely proud" of New Labour's achievements during its last time in office, but the party under Sir Keir Starmer is "looking to the future, not the past".

It comes after Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, urged Labour to "consign 1997 to the history books" and warned that if it is "intent on becoming a 1990s tribute act" it would not lead Britain out of decline.

Asked if that is fair, Mr Reynolds replied: "Unsurprisingly I reject that quite comprehensively."

He said: "I am very proud of the achievements of the last Labour government. I think if you compare that government to what we've had since 2010, that's a government of real achievements.

"But we look to the future not the past."

In a lengthy critique in The Sunday Times, Ms Graham argued the UK was in a "very different place" to when Labour last came to power in 1997 when there was money to spend and the economy grew "without having to do much except keep their hands firmly on the tiller".

She said that this "light touch" approach would not work during the cost of living crisis that has left working people "paying the price" - and some of Labour's flagship policies - like its "diminished Green New Deal" - don't go far enough.

Ms Graham called for "serious intervention underpinned by a strategic plan" - arguing bold policies like nationalising energy should be put on the table if Labour is "serious about changing society".

Mr Reynolds insisted Labour's agenda was "offering people hope", citing its climate policies and its New Deal for working people.

He added: "But you don't do that unless you have sound foundations in place, like being trusted with the public finances, having a sustainable bond market so you can finance the very large, significant debt this country has.

"Liz Truss a year ago thought she was being radical. She may have been radical, but she was radically bad because she didn't understand those sound foundations have to be in place.

"So I just reject entirely the idea you choose between reassuring people and offering people hope."

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Ms Graham's piece came after a shadow cabinet reshuffle saw those on the more Blairite wing of the party, including Liz Kendall, Pat McFadden and Shabana Mahmood, rewarded with promotions, while some associated with the soft left were purged.

Sir Keir's spokesperson has denied acting ideologically, saying he has assembled a top team that is ready to govern if it wins the next general election.

After more than a decade out of power, Sir Keir is hoping to become the first Labour prime minister to win at the ballot box since Tony Blair - who secured two more terms after his landslide victory in 1997.

He has sought to rebuild the party focusing on a more centrist style than his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, with a focus on fiscal Conservatism.

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Labour's policies are likely to come under further scrutiny in the coming days, as unions convene in Liverpool for the annual TUC conference.

Issues being debated this week include employment rights and the cost of living crisis.

Paul Nowak, general secretary of the TUC (Trades Union Congress), said he was "not interested in shadow cabinet top trumps" when asked if he shared Ms Graham's concerns that Labour is becoming too Blairite.

He told Sky News: "I'm not interested in shadow cabinet top trumps. I'm not interest in labels like Blairite, Brownite, Starmerite, Corbynite.

"What I'm interested in is having a Labour Party that's going to deliver the stuff that matters to our members... I think they will."

Mr Nowak was speaking after announcing the TUC is reporting the government to a UN watchdog over its minimum service levels bill - seen by unions as an attack on the right to strike.

He said he was confident deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner will come to the congress on Tuesday "and reiterate that commitment for a new deal for workers... and crucially, the repeal of that anti-union legislation".

Ms Rayner is due to give a speech on Tuesday which will promise the "biggest upgrade to workers' rights in a generation".

Writing in the Sunday Mirror, she said this included beefing up laws that ban firms from blacklisting union workers.

Ms Rayner wrote: "Blacklisting doesn't just ruin livelihoods, it ruins lives. It's a destructive practice that leaves people locked out of work, often facing poverty as a result."