A Labour MP sacked by Keir Starmer after conducting TV interviews from a picket line has warned the party’s leader risks being “blown over” by his failure to take strong action on the cost-of-living crisis.
Writing in The Independent, Sam Tarry said that Starmer cannot lead Labour to election victory against a new Conservative prime minister unless working people believe that he “stands with them” in the face of soaring prices and falling living standards.
The party should be backing workers’ demands for pay rises to keep pace with inflation, he said.
And he said that, with average energy bills expected to rise above £3,500 per household, Labour should be setting out bold solutions, such as a pandemic-style furlough for lower-income households, taxes on oil companies’ excess profits, a tougher price cap or nationalisation of power firms.
“There is no easy path back to government for us but if our people don’t see us fighting alongside them today, they won’t be putting Keir Starmer in Downing Street tomorrow,” he warned.
Mr Tarry’s dismissal as shadow transport minister after he joined RMT rail union members on a strike picket line last month has sent shockwaves through the Labour movement.
Sir Keir had warned frontbenchers not to join pickets. But his office insists that the Ilford South MP, who is the partner of Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, was sacked for “making up policy on the hoof” in broadcast interviews and not for standing alongside the strikers.
Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy has so far escaped disciplinary action for visiting striking members of the Communication Workers Union on a picket line.
Today, Mr Tarry, a former union official who worked on Jeremy Corbyn’s 2016 campaign for the leadership, insisted that he was right to “stand up for working people” by showing his support for the striking rail workers.
“I did so because at a time of worsening national crisis, it’s the trade unions that are standing up for working people – and Labour must be the party that stands with them, wherever they are defending their standard of living,” he wrote.
“Now isn’t the time for the Labour Party to turn against its own supporters and the people the party was set up to defend. It’s not too late for the leadership to change course, but I fear as things stand they will simply be blown over by the scale of the cost-of-living crisis.”
With prices spikes driven by soaring company profits and not rising pay, workers are “well within their rights” to take action to maintain the real value of their wages, and Labour should support them, he said.
Mr Tarry said that, since chancellor Rishi Sunak stole Labour’s policy of a windfall tax on energy companies in a major U-turn in May, the party had failed to come forward with new proposals to counter the escalating cost-of-living crisis.
Labour has been calling since last year for the removal of the 5 per cent VAT on domestic energy bills. But Mr Tarry said that a more ambitious plan was now needed.
This should include demanding a furlough-style scheme to support the 40 per cent least well-off households, at an estimated cost of around £30bn – roughly equivalent to the tax cuts offered by Tory leadership frontrunner Liz Truss – he said.
And with oil companies like Shell and BP recording record profits, he said Labour should not shy away from targeting them for additional tax revenues to fund this support.
“When companies make money from instability and crises, we shouldn’t be afraid to call it what it is – profiteering,” wrote Mr Tarry. “Tax Justice UK have said a fair tax on the oil companies’ excess profits would bring in £13bn for the government.”
In the longer term, he said Labour should be calling for reform of the energy price cap, to bring it more in line with schemes in countries like France, where Emmanuel Macron earlier this year restricted electricity bill rises to 4 per cent at a time when UK consumers were facing increases of 54 per cent.
And he said that Labour has “no excuse” not to make the case for taking part or all of the privatised energy industry into public hands to ensure a fair deal for businesses and households.
Failure to deliver a bold plan now will cost Labour dearly at the ballot box in the election expected in 2024, particularly if the new Tory prime minister is seen to act swiftly after taking office in September, he warned.
“Labour risks being left in the lurch, the same way it was when Rishi Sunak introduced his own energy windfall tax,” wrote Mr Tarry. “What ideas on tackling the crisis has Labour brought forward since?
“Labour needs to remember why it was set up, and who for. It’s time for the party to do what it should always do: stand with working people in a time of crisis.
“There is no easy path back to government for us but if our people don’t see us fighting alongside them today, they won’t be putting Keir Starmer in Downing Street tomorrow.”