Sir Keir Starmer ‘missing’ over cost of living crisis

·4-min read
where is keir starmer backbenchers asking - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
where is keir starmer backbenchers asking - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, was on Thursday night accused of being “missing” over the cost of living crisis as Left-wing MPs backed Gordon Brown’s demand for a recall of Parliament.

Sir Keir, who returns to work from holiday on Friday, has infuriated backbenchers with an “eerie” silence over spiralling energy bills.

In his absence Mr Brown, the former prime minister, has put forward plans to bring down gas and electricity bills by temporarily renationalising some providers.

The proposals were well received by Labour MPs, who demanded that Sir Keir “go further” by calling for a new cost of living rescue package.

During a trip to Edinburgh on Friday, the Labour leader will unveil plans to end rip-off pre-payment meters that see the poorest families charged the highest costs for electricity.

He will vow to pay for the move by increasing the windfall tax on energy companies, eliminating the discounts built in for firms that reinvest their profits in the UK.

It comes after three Cabinet ministers privately poured cold water over the prospect of expanding the levy at a private meeting on Thursday.

The Telegraph understands that Boris Johnson, Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, and Nadhim Zahawi, the Chancellor, all indicated discomfort at the prospect as they met energy company bosses.

At one point, a company executive brought up the possibility of increasing the windfall tax, which is raising billions of pounds after firms’ extraordinary profits.

A government source in the room told The Telegraph: “There was a shaking of the heads from all three members of the Cabinet in unison. The point was ‘we don’t like this’.”

The Government has agreed not to announce any major changes to taxation and spending policy before the Prime Minister leaves office early next month.

But Mr Kwarteng is widely tipped in Tory circles for a senior Cabinet role if Liz Truss wins the leadership race, possibly as chancellor, making his opposition noteworthy.

Mr Johnson said after the meeting: “We know that this will be a difficult winter for people across the UK, which is why we are doing everything we can to support them and must continue to do so.

“Following our meeting today, we will keep urging the electricity sector to continue working on ways we can ease the cost of living pressures and to invest further and faster in British energy security.”

Sir Keir will unveil a “fully costed” package for helping struggling households through the squeeze at the start of next week, according to Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary.

But his slowness to announce a plan angered some backbenchers, with Zarah Sultana, the MP for Coventry South, telling LBC radio: “The scale of this crisis is absolutely huge, and I’m personally not seeing enough being done by my party.

“Of course I want the Labour Party to go further. Now is an opportunity to show real leadership by supporting trade unions who are at the front line of this fight. We should be showing solidarity with workers fighting for a pay rise, we should be making that argument around ending food poverty.”

Diane Abbott, the former shadow home secretary, shared a mocked up wanted poster of Sir Keir, which was circulated by Left-wing activists on social media.

“Have you seen this man? Missing during the cost of living crisis” it read, alongside a black and white photo of the Labour leader.

Another Labour MP said: “Where the hell is he? Where is our leader? It’s very odd. What on Earth is he up to? Gordon doing that has made it quite difficult for the leadership to keep quiet, but it’s eerie how quiet they’ve been.”

In a column this week, Mr Brown pointedly said that “crises don’t take holidays” as he urged action over the cost of living.

Writing in The Guardian, he said: “Time and tide wait for no one. Neither do crises. They don’t take holidays, and don’t politely hang fire – certainly not to suit the convenience of a departing PM and the whims of two potential successors and the Conservative party membership.”

On Thursday night, 22 MPs and peers on the Left of Labour sent a letter to Sir Keir, as well as Boris Johnson, demanding the recall of Parliament. Signatories included Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, and John McDonnell, who was his shadow chancellor.

Mr Reed dismissed suggestions that Mr Brown was now effectively leading the party and ruled out his renationalisation proposal as too expensive.

Labour would instead spend £113 million raised from the windfall tax to cancel the higher energy price cap for pre-payment meters, refunding suppliers the difference.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said the party would also take “broader action to help people manage their bills over the winter”, saying the Conservatives “have lost control of the economy and have nothing to offer”.