Keir Starmer has repeatedly refused to support striking workers, including those working for the NHS as the main nurses’ union prepares to ballot members on industrial action.
In a round of regional radio interviews the Labour leader said he understood why strikes were taking place but repeated his opposition to standing with workers on picket lines.
He also rejected renationalising the water industry, telling BBC Radio Oxford: “I’m not ideological; I’m a practical person.” And he repeatedly attacked the government’s approach of “trickle-down” economics.
On BBC Radio Devon he was asked three times whether he would back the Royal College of Nurses, which is recommending its 300,000 members vote for strike action.
He said: “I completely understand why people are concerned and are considering industrial action. We’ve had wages stuck for many, many years because the economy hasn’t been working under this government. I don’t want the strikes to go ahead. My wife works in the NHS – the last thing that anybody who works in NHS wants is to go on strike.”
Pressed on whether he would back strikes, he said: “I don’t want the strikes to go ahead. We want to be in government; in government you resolve issues.”
Asked by BBC Radio Sheffield whether he would join union members on the picket lines, Starmer said: “No, I don’t think the job of the leader of the Labour party ... my job is to get Labour into government and to be the prime minister.”
Starmer told BBC Manchester that benefits should continue to rise in line with inflation and said Liz Truss was wrong not to commit to this. But he refused to say whether workers’ wages should also rise in line with inflation.
He said: “I think that’s a question for each of the negotiations exactly where it lands. But my job as leader of the Labour party is to make sure we get a Labour government so we can fix the underlying problem.”
Starmer opted to do a series of appearances on local radio a week after Truss struggled through a similar interview round.
In 30 minutes of interviews on six different stations he used the word “kamikaze” 27 times to describe the mini-budget and Truss’s approach to the economy. On BBC Radio Lincolnshire he used the word seven times alone. In the last interview, on Radio Surrey, the presenter Peter Gordon said he would ring a bell if Starmer used the word again.
On BBC Radio Sheffield, Toby Foster asked Starmer whether he regarded regional radio as an “easy goal opportunity from a Labour leader who’s hanging around the goal line”.
Starmer said: “I’m a regular footballer. The idea that I hang around the goal line – I’m a hard-working midfield general.”
Speaking to BBC Radio Surrey he attacked trickle-down economics, saying: “Liz Truss says what we need to do is make the rich richer, and somehow that will trickle down to everybody else. I think our economy is driven by, and the rewards ought to go to, those working people who are going out every day, actually doing the work that drives our economy.
“I totally reject the idea that what you need is unfunded tax cuts for the people at the very, very top. This is theory that was tried before and didn’t work. I think it’s completely wrong. I think it’s pretty insulting.”
Starmer was asked about “chaos” in Oxfordshire after a series of water mains burst and whether the local provider, Thames Water, should be nationalised. He told BBC Radio Oxford: “I think [the answer is] better regulation and it is enforcing the regulations that we’ve got. There is a case for public ownership of some areas we’ve set out, Great British Energy for example, which would be a publicly owned company to deal with energy generation of the future. I want to change all that. So I’m not ideological; I’m a practical person.”
He told BBC Radio Manchester a Labour government would consider stripping the rail company Avanti of running the west coast mainline after a series of problems with the service. He said: “We should look at that. It’s simply not good enough and it’s got to change.”