Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has seen off attempts to push the party into committing to repeal the two-child benefit cap and toughen up workers’ rights in its election manifesto.
Sir Keir set himself up for a clash with the party’s union backers after he refused to compromise at the meeting of the party’s national policy forum this weekend.
The policy document produced by the forum, which will make up the initial framework of Labour’s next manifesto, contains “no unfunded spending commitments”, a spokesman said.
There was hope within the party that the leadership would soften its wording around the two-child cap – which experts argue is detrimental to tackling child poverty – after Sir Keir’s refusal to commit to scrapping it sparked backlash in the days leading up to the forum.
But senior party sources said there was no concession or promise to review the policy in future.
Unions and affiliate groups were also gearing up to push the leadership into toughening up policies on workers’ rights to promise collective bargaining.
And there were also calls to promise to introduce universal free school meals. Both of these were also unsuccessful.
Unite, the biggest union backer, said it was unable to support “in full” because the section on workers’ rights contained a “weakening of language around zero hours contracts”.
In a statement, the union said the process was “chaotic” and accused the leadership of pushing ahead with changes without sharing the details.
“Unite was unable to back the document in full as it clearly crossed the union’s red lines including around workers’ rights in collective bargaining – an area which needs root-and-branch change, not just tinkering around the edges,” the union said.
“The process in Nottingham was also chaotic with an attempt to push through changes to the policy document without first sharing them with conference participants, including Unite. As in any negotiation, you simply don’t sign up to something without all the detail and understanding the impact on our members and workers more widely.
“As the general election draws nearer, Keir Starmer has to prove Labour will deliver for workers and we need clear policies on this.”
The policy forum met in the wake of the row over the two-child benefit cap and London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ultra low emission zone (Ulez) – which was blamed for Labour narrowly losing a crucial by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
Party insiders have been privately complaining about Sir Keir and shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves’s iron grip on policy announcements and some have accused them of shutting out members of the Shadow Cabinet.
There is also internal frustration about a long-awaited reshuffle, which was initially expected after the May local elections but has not yet taken place, looming over the heads of Shadow Cabinet members.
“We don’t feel like we are winning which I feel like is telling despite being considerably ahead in the polls,” one party source said.
“People are fed up and tired and frustrated that the reshuffle is looming over our heads because Keir is being indecisive.”
A Labour spokesman refused to comment on when a reshuffle of Sir Keir’s top team might take place.
They said the weekend gathering had laid the groundwork for an “election-winning manifesto” for the party.
“Labour’s democratic policymaking body has endorsed Keir Starmer’s programme, his five missions for government, and the fiscal rules that he and Rachel Reeves have set out,” the spokesman said.
“This is a serious, credible and ambitious policy programme that lays the groundwork for an election-winning manifesto and a mission-driven Labour government that will build a better Britain.
“There are no unfunded spending commitments in the document. This weekend is another proof point that shows that Keir Starmer has changed the Labour Party and is ready to change the country in government built on the rock of economic responsibility and strong fiscal rules.”
Left wing grassroots group Momentum, which was supporting the Union demands, said the weekend had been a “missed opportunity” for the party.
“Trade unions and party members brought amendments on urgent, popular policies like a £15 minimum wage, strengthened workers’ rights and free school meals. But the Leadership’s fiscal conservatism put paid to any hope for the bold, transformative policies we need.
“Worse, Starmer’s steadfast refusal to commit to scrap heinous Tory policies like the two-child cap and anti-protest laws means that an undemocratic and unequal status quo risks being left in place under a Labour government. Britain deserves better.”