Sir Keir Starmer is calling on Boris Johnson to put party differences aside and work with Labour on a jobs crusade during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a move normally associated with wartime, Sir Keir is proposing a “national plan” to protect jobs, create new ones and invest in skills and training.
“I’m making an open offer to the prime minister: work with us to keep millions of people in work,” Sir Keir will say. “Work with the trade unions and work with businesses. Do everything possible to protect jobs and to deliver for working people.”
Suggesting the sort of co-operation which saw Winston Churchill govern alongside Labour’s Clement Attlee in World War Two, Sir Keir will say: “At this moment of national crisis we should take inspiration from our past.
“Be willing to put party differences aside and work together in the interest of the country. Imagine how powerful it would be if we could form a genuine national plan to protect jobs, create new ones and investing in skills and training?”
But Sir Keir’s offer is likely to be rebuffed by the prime minister, who has repeatedly expressed disdain for the Labour leader, dismissing him as a “Remainer lawyer” and lampooning him as having “more briefs than Calvin Klein” and “more flip flops than Bournemouth beach”.
As part of his national plan proposal, Sir Keir wants the government to replace the furlough scheme and outlaw the sort of “firing and re-hiring” practices of companies like British Airways.
But despite his pledge of co-operation, Sir Keir Starmer will also accuse the prime minister of failing to get the basics of coronavirus testing or a plan for care homes right over the summer and of attempting to “re-open old wounds over Brexit”.
And after calling on the prime minister at the weekend to “stop banging on about Brexit and defeat Covid” he will again urge Mr Johnson: “Get your priorities right. Get on with defeating this virus.”
Sir Keir claims Tory co-operation with Labour, business and the unions could avoid “scarring effect mass unemployment will have on communities and families across the country” and “with a bit of imagination and acting in the national interest, a better approach is possible”.
Whereas the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady called in her conference speech for an extension of furlough, Sir Keir will propose replacing the job retention scheme with measures from other parts of the world, including:
- Expanding part-time working and rewarding employers who give people hours rather than cut jobs;
- Providing training and support for those unable to come back full-time;
- Targeting sectors most in need – including retail, aviation and those hit by local lockdowns.
In a pledge that will be welcomed by unions, Sir Keir will call on the government to outlaw “fire and re-hire” – where people are given notice of redundancy and then hired back on worse pay and conditions – as “not just wrong but against British values”.
He will say: “These tactics punish good employers, hit working people hard and harm our economy. After a decade of pay restraint – that’s the last thing working people need, and in the middle of a deep recession – it’s the last thing our economy needs.”
And praising the work of unions during coronavirus, he will say: “When it came to protecting millions of jobs and keeping people safe at work it was the union movement that stood up.
“Without you there would have been no furlough scheme. No life raft for seven million people. The trade unions have always been the unsung heroes of our national story – and through this crisis you have helped to write another proud chapter.”