Keir Starmer refuses to back striking NHS nurses

Keir Starmer has refused to back striking NHS workers, as the main nurses‘ union ballots its members for industrial action over pay.

In a round of local radio interviews on Thursday the Labour leader was repeatedly asked by different regional presenters whether he would back the hospital staff or stand on picket lines.

But the Labour leader reiterated his opposition to joining pickets, and would only say that he could “completely understand why people are concerned and are considering industrial action”.

300,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing have been asked to cast their votes on whether to strike over pay in the first ever UK-wide ballot by the sector’s largest union.

It marks the first time in the College’s 106 year history that a national strike ballot has taken place, and comes amid record numbers leaving the profession.

Asked three times on BBC Radio Devon whether he would back the nurses, Sir Keir 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.”

Pushed 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.”

Sir Keir was also asked separately on BBC Radio Sheffield about whether he would turn out on picket lines to support workers, and told the presenter: “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.”

In a third interview the Labour leader was asked on BBC Radio Manchester whether benefits should rise in line with wages, and said he agreed that they should.

But asked in a follow-up question whether workers’ wages should also rise with inflation, he demurred, and 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.”

With inflation riding at 9.9 per cent huge swathes of the workforce are facing likely real-terms pay cuts unless they can secure correspondent wage increases.

Sir Keir previously caused a backlash by banning Labour MPs from attending picket lines – sacking shadow minister Sam Tarry from his front bench after he ignored the order.