Keir Starmer has said Labour needs to move away from being a “party of protest” and instead act like a “government in waiting”.
Keir Starmer has dodged questions over whether Labour MPs should be allowed to join picket lines as more workers prepare to go on strike.
Criminal barristers in England and Wales today voted to go on an indefinite and uninterrupted strike from next week in protest over pay, working conditions and legal aid funding.
The Labour Party has been embroiled in an internal row over whether MPs and members of the frontbench should be allowed to join striking workers on the picket line.
Starmer has said Labour needs to move away from being a “party of protest” and instead act like a “government in waiting” with an emphasis on negotiating with unions.
His position has drawn an angry response from some unions who believe the Labour Party should express solidarity with workers amid the deepening cost of living crisis.
Asked whether Labour MPs would be allowed to join picket lines with striking lawyers, Starmer — a former barrister — told reporters: “What I understand is why so many people, whether it’s barristers or others, are struggling to make ends meet.
“That could be in the rail sector, it could be in the criminal justice sector, it could be in other places around the country because we have got prices through the roof, wages have been stagnant, we’ve got a government doing absolutely nothing.”
Pressed on whether Labour MPs would be allowed to join picket lines, he told the PA news agency: “My focus of attack is on the government for not doing anything to resolve these issues.”
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) is one of a number of unions to go on strike amid a worsening economic climate that has seen inflation soar to 10.1 per cent.
Members of the RMT and Aslef unions have already launched a series of walkouts that have caused disruption on the rail network this summer, in a similar argument over pay and conditions.
The row over Labour’s stance on strikes came to a head last month when Starmer angered the unions by sacking former shadow transport minister Sam Tarry for appearing on a picket line in Euston.
The party said it sacked Tarry for doing unauthorised media rounds and for “making up policy on the hoof” rather than for solely appearing on a picket line.
The Labour leader drew further criticism after the party seemingly allowed Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, to attend a picket line in her Wigan constituency unpunished.
Members of the CBA have already been walking out on alternate weeks but today voted for an indefinite strike that will start on September 5.
Criminal barristers are due to receive a 15 per cent fee rise from the end of September, meaning they will earn £7,000 more per year.
But there has been anger that the proposed pay rise will not be made effective immediately and will only apply to new cases and not those waiting in the courts backlog.
The government has come under fire for being absent during the cost of living crisis.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, who is on leave until Thursday with his family in Surrey, has not met the CBA since members embarked on industrial action in April.
A spokeswoman said he is in regular contact with Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials and would be back in the office later this week.
Asked about the vote for further strike action today, Downing Street said it was a “disappointing decision” by the CBA that would “force victims to wait longer for justice”.
A No.10 spokeswoman said: “This is particularly disappointing, given we have been working to clear backlogs from the pandemic and we had seen those reducing.
“We would urge the [Criminal] Bar Association to rethink their plans and obviously we have set out the pay increase that is due to come in September.”
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