The Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has privately expressed anger at the departure of Andy McDonald after he launched a major policy on workers’ rights with her.
McDonald resigned as shadow employment minister on Monday, describing tensions with the leadership that culminated in his refusal to argue against a £15 minimum wage in a meeting with union officials.
On Tuesday afternoon, Labour members will vote on a motion at conference which includes the demand for a £15 minimum wage, as well as condemning fire-and-rehire practices.
It is understood the Labour leadership will not attempt to block the vote, but a Momentum source said it would show the leader, Keir Starmer, was “increasingly isolated in his opposition to a significant minimum wage increase”, adding: “It’s hard to avoid the conclusion his conference is going from bad to worse.”
The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, attempted to play down the row and said the leadership would keep an open mind on the policy. “We will make an assessment of that, which I think is the responsible thing to do, closer to the general election,” he said.
“Our position is that it should be at least £10, that is what we have made absolutely clear, and by the way we are perfectly happy for conference and for the delegates to vote for the motion that is before them today.”
Allies of Rayner said she had been angered McDonald had not told her of his intention to resign when she had believed the pair were close. They said McDonald had not raised any disagreements as they developed a green paper on workers’ rights that demanded an immediate £10 minimum wage.
The two had launched the policy before Rayner’s speech to conference, calling for full flexible working and key rights from day one, including sick pay and parental leave. Multiple sources also suggested on Monday night that Starmer had intended to sack McDonald from the shadow cabinet in the spring during the reshuffle, but Rayner had intervened.
“That is just not a decent way to behave after the deputy leader puts her neck on the line to save your job and then works with you to develop all the policies in the new deal,” one source said. “Don’t try and make it a policy row when you haven’t even tried to change the policy.”
The Guardian understands activists have plans to disrupt Starmer’s speech on Wednesday to demand a £15 minimum wage.
McDonald is due to speak at an event with the former leader Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday. In his resignation letter, McDonald said his role had become untenable and added: “After 18 months of your leadership our movement is more divided than ever and the pledges you made to the membership are not being honoured.”
He said he had been “instructed to go into a meeting and argue against a national minimum wage of £15 an hour and against statutory sick pay at the living wage. This is something I could not do.”
Thomas-Symonds said Starmer was trying to set a very firm direction for the party. “It isn’t about defeating different bits of the party, the party has always been a broad church, but what we are doing is showing a very firm sense of direction under our new leadership,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Keir has shown that very strong sense of direction this week, he has got the rule changes through and we will be getting those policies out to the country now as well.”