‘Completely different question!’ Peston shuts down Thornberry bid to bypass RMT probe
Rail strikes: Thornberry grilled on Labour's 'muddled' stance
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ITV Peston host Robert Peston put Labour’s Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry under intense scrutiny over her party’s stance on RMT rail strikes and her leader Sir Keir Starmer’s call on frontbenchers to stay off picket lines. At least three Labour frontbenchers defied the order and joined railway strikers in the biggest strike ever seen in the last 30 years. The party’s conflicting positions have divided the party on whether to join the strike and their strategy over the RMT strike.
Against that backdrop, Robert Peston asked Emily Thornberry: “Why therefore is Labour so muddled about whether or not to support workers and join picket lines or not?”
Emily Thornberry squirmed, putting the blame on Boris Johnson’s Government: “We’re not muddled at all. It’s perfectly clear. Our position is simply this, that this is a situation that needs to have the government involved. They need to take a strategic look at this.”
Mr Peston then exclaimed: “You’re also on a completely different question!”
“I’m not answering a different question,” Ms Thornberry shouted, “Let me finish what I’m going to say. So, just as we don’t expect them to pick a side, we expect them to be at the table and trying to sort this out and getting both sides involved.”
“In many ways, it’s similar to the position of the leadership of the Labour party. If we were in government, we would not be picking a side. We’d be trying to bring both sides together.”
Ms Thonberry continued: “And we would be taking a strategic look at what is the future of our railways. How are we going to ensure that we can afford to give our teachers enough money to build a living whilst also paying energy bills.”
Tensions among public-sector professions have been mounting as other professions are on the brink of joining railway strikes.
Teachers and NHS workers could soon take industrial action and join railway strikers to demand a pay closer to inflation. If teachers fail to get a pay rise, the National Education Union threatened, they will hold a vote on whether to take to the streets.
If the NHS and teachers execute their threat and go ahead with strikes, almost public sectors will be striking together for the first time since 1926 under the same demand for higher wages amid 40-year-high rising inflation and skyrocketing energy and food prices.
In the same way the Labour party experienced the infamous Winter of Discontent in 1978 and 1979, there are fears the Conservative party could face a Summer of Discontent, as Boris Johnson’s Government has so far failed to slow down inflation and respond to public-sector workers’ demands.
Ms Peston continued his probe, asking: “Isn’t that on individual Labour MPs’ conscience as to whether they join picket lines? Keir Starmer doesn’t want frontbenchers to join picket lines. Should it be a conscience issue? Because you’re basically saying, don’t pick a side as a party.
“That slightly implies, that if he’s got it wrong, you should all be allowed to follow your conscience.”
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Ms Thornberry repeated: “No, what we’re saying is that we are not injecting ourselves into the middle of this dispute. This is a dispute between railway workers, the railway companies, and the Government.
“And we’re not in the middle of this. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to stop the government from sailing on the edge of it and throwing gasoline into the fire.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has dismissed calls for Government intervention, saying unions should be holding talks with employers.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch has suggested strikes could be repeated for months until a deal is struck.
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