Keir Starmer has renewed his call for an immediate general election, accusing Liz Truss’s government of being too mired in “pathetic squabbles” to govern the UK.
The Labour leader said the Conservatives had hit “a new chaotic low” after the departure of the home secretary, Suella Braverman, and a bungled vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
“All the failures of the past 12 years have now come to the boil,” he said, speaking to union delegates at the TUC congress in Brighton. “We need a general election now.”
“The victims of crime who can’t get justice. People dying because ambulances can’t get there in time. Millions going without food or heating. And none of it can drum into the Tories the idea that our country must come first,” he added. “They lack the basic patriotic duty to keep the British people out of their own pathetic squabbles.”
Truss’s leadership is hanging by a thread after a string of dramatic missteps that began with the mini-budget. The new chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, rejected most of its measures this week after Truss sacked his predecessor, Kwasi Kwarteng. Hunt is set to deliver a fresh package of spending cuts and tax increases on 31 October.
Starmer’s speech came on the closing day of the Trades Union Congress’s three-day annual conference, which had been postponed after the death of the Queen. During the event, several general secretaries, including Sharon Graham from Unite and the RMT’s Mick Lynch, have called for coordinated strike action across industries.
In her speech on Wednesday, Graham called on Starmer to make an unequivocal statement of support for unions taking industrial action in the face of double-digit inflation.
“Whose side are you on?” she asked. “Do not stand on the sidelines and play this safe.”
Starmer has irked some unions in recent months by ordering frontbenchers not to appear publicly on picket lines, wary of being portrayed by the Conservatives as responsible for the disruption. Unite, which was Labour’s biggest donor at the last general election, has reduced its funding for the party.
The Labour leader took on this criticism directly. “You’re doing your job, and I respect that: but my job is different,” he said. “The single most important thing I can do for working people is to make sure we win the next election and get a Labour government.”
He said he wouldn’t apologise “for approaching questions on industrial action as a potential Labour government”, adding, “this can’t be a re-run of the 1980s: that’s what they [the Conservatives] want”.
In response to a question from a Unite bus driver called Taj about recent pay increases won after industrial action, Starmer said: “That’s an incredible record for Unite in terms of the strikes and the negotiations and what they’ve won for their members, and quite right too.” He also called on Amazon to recognise the GMB and become a unionised employer.
Earlier, Starmer was cheered as he listed pro-worker measures a Labour government would take, including banning zero-hours contracts, enhancing parental leave and introducing sector-wide fair pay agreements.
Citing social care as an example, he said that under these agreements employers and trade unions would negotiate minimum pay rates to apply across the industry.
He said a Labour government would be founded on “respect for the working people that create the wealth that drives our country forward”, and promised to “strengthen the role of trades unions in our society”.
He said of his sister, a care worker: “Every week, yes, every week, she struggles to make ends meet.
“The fight for fair pay, the fight for good work, the fight to make the economy work for everyone and not just a privileged few, is personal for me.”
Starmer has promised to “oppose and repeal” the legislation Truss’s government announced on Thursday to impose minimum service levels during transport strikes.