Keir Starmer used his first TUC Congress speech as leader, delivered from his attic, to accuse Boris Johnson of having “failed on all counts” during the pandemic. Instead of sorting out the chaotic test and trace system, he said the Prime Minister’s priority had been “reopening old wounds on Brexit” and “trashing Britain’s reputation abroad”. The Labour leader also announced his first major new policy that will not apply only in the time of Covid: urging the government to outlaw ‘fire and rehire’ tactics. These have been used by companies such as British Airways and British Gas to drive down worker pay and employment standards, particularly in this crisis. And on working with trade unions and businesses to prevent those failures, Starmer’s key message to Johnson was: “My door is open.”
The Labour leader’s TUC address got a very warm reception from trade unions, particularly Unite general secretary Len McCluskey who said it “showed him to be absolutely on the side of working people”. Unions have come together in recent months to use the same key terms to deliver their demands and warnings: we need to ‘build back better’, and the government is risking a ‘tsunami of job losses’. UNISON launched a ‘No Going Back to Normal’ campaign earlier this week, stressing that we must not “return to undervaluing our public services and the people who provide them”. Labour’s call for the furlough scheme to be replaced by more targeted measures shows the movement is working as one. Reinforcing the message, McCluskey has today written to the PM urging him to act before the “redundancy floodgates” open and requesting a meeting.
While the unions and the party have been applying pressure on the issue of extending and reshaping the job retention scheme, Gordon Brown has continued his ambitious ‘Alliance for Full Employment’ campaign with Mark Drakeford and Labour metro mayors. Here is something else in Johnson’s inbox: 1,200 Labour council leaders, mayors and councillors from across the country have written to the PM asking for “strategic use of furlough and full quarantine support”, as Brown puts it. Statutory sick pay urgently needs to go up, and support must be given to hard-hit sectors and lockdown areas. It is understood that unions will soon also back Brown’s other calls, including for the Bank of England to focus on job creation.
The extent to which our test and trace system has unravelled is clearer than ever. Richard E. Grant summarises the problem: “Please can someone explain to me why, when you land in Rome, there is a swift and well organised Covid test, with the result given 30 minutes later, yet we don’t have this in the UK?”. And because the UK system is in such a mess, Starmer is “still awaiting the test result for a member of his family”, according to his spokesperson, and needs to keep self-isolating. Angela Rayner will be standing in for the opposition leader at PMQs this afternoon, and she’ll be facing the PM himself. As Ed Miliband showed this week, it is hugely rewarding for the Labour frontbench to show off different ways of skewering Johnson. And later we’ll be treated to another liaison committee performance by the PM. Perhaps he’ll reveal there is another basic government policy that he knows nothing about. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.