Katy Balls Katy Balls

Will the child benefit row rain on Starmer’s by-election parade?

Keir Starmer (Credit: Getty images)

As the Tories chalk up a rare win with the passing of the Illegal Migration Bill in the Lords, Keir Starmer is facing a revolt in his own party over his insistence that a Labour government would keep the two-child benefit limit.

As James Heale reports, MPs from across the party gathered at Monday’s parliamentary Labour party meeting to express concerns over Starmer’s position on a policy that both he and the majority of his shadow cabinet have heavily criticised in the past. MPs called for the Labour leader to think again but received little in the way of assurances from his deputy Angela Rayner. The question is whether the issue is now raised at this morning’s shadow cabinet meeting.

If the Tories were to cling on in just one seat, this would be viewed as a major upset for Starmer

One Labour school of thought is that this is a tactical move ahead of the by-elections for Starmer to back a policy – keeping the benefit cap – that polls well. This could also be to test discipline ahead of a mooted shadow cabinet reshuffle: will Labour frontbenchers put their grievances to one side and get behind their boss? If not, decisions on who to sack and who to promote could become clearer.

Yet it’s hard to look at the events of the past 48 hours as a net plus for Starmer. It has highlighted how he and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves are prioritising fiscal responsibility above all else (and trying to lower expectations about what a Labour government could do in its first term). But it has also shown how widespread the unhappiness is on the issue and has raised questions about whether Starmer could actually see off a rebellion on the issue if prime minister.

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