'Talk not walk!' Shapps slams Starmer and demands he stand up to striking unions

Rail strikes: Grant Shapps says industry is ‘not badly paid’

In a letter to Sir Keir, Mr Shapps called on Labour to “put people above your party coffers” by rejecting further donations from any unions involved in the strikes. The RMT has given almost £250,000 to the Labour Party and Constituency Labour Parties over the last decade. 

“The public will not forgive the Labour Party for siding with those who are attempting to bring our country to a standstill next week. It’s time for Labour to stop backing these strikes, and urge your union paymasters to talk, not walk,” the letter said.

RMT leaders are behind strikes at Network Rail and across 13 railway operators on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in a protest over job cuts, pay proposals and changes to pension plans.

The fallout is expected to lead to major delays all week.

A 24-hour walkout is also being staged by the RMT and Unite on London Underground this Tuesday.

The Labour leader has failed to criticise the plans to bring the country to a standstill while some on his front bench have backed the action.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he would vote for strike action if he was a rail worker.

Transport Secretary Grants Shapps challenges Keir Starmer

Transport Secretary Grants Shapps challenges Keir Starmer (Image: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Mr Shapps called for Sir Keir to take action against Labour MPs who actively support the strike.

“Last Wednesday in Parliament, you were given the chance to join us in condemning these strikes,” he wrote. 

“You ordered your MPs not to do so. Dozens of your MPs have come out in support of these strikes, such as your Shadow Health Secretary, who said he would join those inflicting misery on commuters if he could.”

Mr Shapps said the strikes, which are the biggest walkout in the industry for more than 30 years, will hit millions of families in the pocket, disrupt operations on the NHS and jeopardise GCSE and A-Level exams.

He added: “At a time when taxpayers have kept the railways running and rail workers in jobs to the tune of £16 billion – equivalent of £600 for every household in the country – your failure to condemn the strikes is even more staggering.”

“The average rail worker is paid more than other key workers, like nurses, teachers and care workers, and reform of outdated working practices is vital if the railways are to thrive for passengers in the future.”

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, supports walkout strikes

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, supports walkout strikes (Image: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

The average rail worker is on around £44,000, rising to £56,000 for train drivers, while a typical teacher is on £37,000, a nurse £31,000 and a police officer £42,000.

Sir Keir has only publicly gone as far as saying he does not want the strikes to go ahead.

The Labour leader claimed on Sunday that ministers wanted to see the country “grind to a halt” so they could “feed off the division.”

“Instead of grown-up conversations to take the heat out of the situation, they are pouring petrol on the fire,” the Labour leader said.

“Instead of bringing people together in the national interest, they are stoking division in their political interest.”

Lisa Nandy repeatedly dodged questions about whether she would have voted for strikes if she was a rail worker.

The shadow levelling up secretary said only the government can resolve the issue “yet they’re not prepared to.”

“The biggest problem that this country has is not militant workers, it’s a militant Government,” she said.

Network Rail and the train operating companies want to modernise outdated working practices in exchange for a pay rise. 

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch warned of more strikes ahead unless there is a pay rise that “reflects the cost of living.”

“If there is not a settlement we will continue our campaign. I think there are going to be many more unions balloting across the country because people can’t take it anymore,” he said.

Mr Lynch warned Sir Keir he must come out in favour of the walkouts to show he is in touch with “working people.”

“Labour should be comfortable with backing working-class people who are struggling and one of the ways that they can redress the imbalance is through industrial action, where negotiations fail,” he said. 

“If Keir Starmer can’t find the imagination to find which side of the equation he needs to be on, he needs to think about where the Labour Party is going.”

Mr Lynch said the union had no choice but to act after the train operators had still not made a pay offer when talks adjourned on Thursday.

“We have to fight this because we haven’t had any pay rises, we are faced with thousands of job cuts and they want to rip up our terms and conditions in a form of hire and re-hire that is internal to the railway,” he said.

Boris Johnson, Grant Shapps, and Sadiq Khan on the Elizabeth Line

Boris Johnson, Grant Shapps, and Sadiq Khan on the Elizabeth Line (Image: Andrew Matthews/Getty Images)

But Mr Shapps said the RMT had been “gunning” for industrial action for weeks and accused it of “punishing” millions of “innocent people” who will be affected by the strikes.

“Of course, it is a reality that if we can’t get these railways modernised if we can’t get the kind of efficiency that will mean that they can work on behalf of the travelling public, then, of course, it is jeopardising the future of the railway itself,” he said.

The strikes are expected to lead to major tailbacks on roads as passengers look for alternative routes. 

They coincide with a number of major events, including the Glastonbury festival and London concerts by Elton John and the Rolling Stones.

Retailers say this week’s rail strikes are a “blow” as they struggle with rising costs and staff shortages and are relying on the first restriction-free summer since 2019.

Footfall is expected to drop by 9.3 percent across all retail destinations next week, but high streets will see 10 percent fewer shoppers and shopping centres will receive 13 percent fewer visitors, according to analysts Springboard.

Diane Wehrle, director of insights at Springboard, said the impact would also be felt on non-strike days.

Dee Corsi, chief operating operator at New West End Company, which represents 600 retail, restaurant, hotel and property owners across central London, said: “The proposed rail strikes are expected to bring London’s West End, and the wider country, to a grinding halt.”

“This will be a particular blow for commuters reliant on these services to get into the capital and other city centres for work, and retail and hospitality businesses that are already struggling with rising costs and staffing shortages.”

Meanwhile, two key teaching unions are considering balloting members over strike action if a significant pay increase is not offered.

The National Education Union (NEU) said a letter will be sent to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on Wednesday saying the union is prepared to ballot its members if a pay rise more in line with inflation is not offered.

However, a ballot will not be called until Mr Zahawi responds to the conclusions of the School Teachers’ Review Body report, which is expected to be released at the end of the school year.

Grant Shapps says the RMT had been “gunning” for industrial action for weeks

Grant Shapps says the RMT had been “gunning” for industrial action for weeks (Image: Stefan Rousseau/Getty Images)

Backlash to ticket office closure plan

Plans to close almost 1,000 rail station ticket offices will “severely disadvantage” disabled and elderly people, charities and unions claim, writes Emily Braeger.

The industry is on course to phase out paper tickets and either shut or “repurpose” its 980 UK station ticket offices – saving £500million a year – from September.

But the shift to digital ticketing has raised concerns that Britain’s elderly and disabled population, who may not have smartphone or internet access, will struggle.

Age UK reports that up to three million people over 65 do not have internet access.

Caroline Abrahams of the charity said: “This news will fill hundreds of thousands of older people with huge dismay and sadness.”

The RMT rail union said: “The public does not want a de-humanised, AI-controlled, dystopian network, that severely disadvantages disabled people, the elderly and women travelling alone at night.”

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association is seeking a meeting with Grant Shapps to challenge the proposal.

Glasto fans face mighty travel slog

Glastonbury’s triumphant return after three years is likely to be marred by travel chaos this week, writes Alex Green, PA Acting Deputy Entertainment Editor.

From Wednesday to Sunday the Somerset music festival is celebrating its 50th birthday, with Sir Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish and rapper Kendrick Lamar lined up to perform.

But festival-goers face difficulties arriving at the site in Pilton due to the planned action on train lines.

Great Western Railway, which operates the route from London Paddington to Castle Cary, close to the venue, has said it “plans to maintain timetabled trains” throughout the week.

But it added: “Some services might be subject to alterations to train times.”

National Express, the official coach partner of the festival, will carry more than 30,000 music fans to and from the site, but a spokeswoman warned of bad congestion.

She said customers should “allow plenty of time when planning their journey”.

Meanwhile, the Met Office has said rain is likely to spoil revellers’ fun at the weekend.

Miliband turnes on Starmer

Labour big beast David Miliband admits Sir Keir Starmer is a long way off from turning the party into an election winner, writes Sam Lister, Deputy Political Editor.

The former Foreign Secretary insists the current leader needs a special quality to be successful and he has to show “purpose”. Mr Miliband, left, said: “You don’t win unless you’ve got that extra element – and in Britain, Labour has had a spectacularly unsuccessful history losing more elections than it’s won.”

He said polls showing Boris Johnson out-performs Sir Keir highlight the scale of the challenge Labour faces.

He claimed under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn Labour “went out of our way to offend every section of the electorate”.

Mr Miliband added: “The party chose to violate so many of the most core assumptions of British voters. Keir is digging us out of a very deep hole.”

Gordon Brown urged Sir Keir to “ignore” anonymous claims by members of the shadow cabinet that he is “boring”.

The ex-Prime Minister added: “What’s exciting about the possibility of Keir’s leadership is he will have a plan for Britain.”

Ed Miliband talks about Keir Starmer

The former Foreign Secretary insists the current leader needs a special quality to be successful (Image: PA)

Struggling shops face new misery

The rail strikes are set to deal a fresh blow to retailers’ first Covid curb-free summer since 2019, writes Josie Clarke.

Footfall is expected to drop by 9.3 per cent everywhere, but there will be 10 per cent fewer shoppers on high streets and 13 per cent less visiting retail centres, according to analysts Springboard.

Diane Wehrle, of Springboard, said: “The planned rail strikes are likely to encourage those who can hybrid work to work from home, and therefore footfall in towns and cities is likely to decrease.”

Dee Corsi, of New West End Company, which represents 600 retail, restaurant, hotel and property owners across central London, said: “The proposed rail strikes are expected to bring the West End and the wider country to a grinding halt.

“These strikes will hit our retail and leisure destinations at a time when they should be making the most of our first restriction-free summer since 2019.”

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AA predicts misery on the roads

Motorists are being warned to expect a surge in traffic as train passengers take to the roads during the rail strikes.

The AA predicted that the worst affected areas are likely to be main motorway arteries, as well as rural and suburban streets.

Drivers in Scotland and Wales are expected to face long queues as most railway lines there will be closed during the strikes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The M74, M8 and A9 in Scotland and the M4, A55, A5 and A483 in Wales could see severe jams, claimed the AA.

A spokesman said: “Even though the strike is for three days, many travellers will give up on the trains for the whole week.

“It coincides with big events like Glastonbury and the Goodwood Festival of Speed, so drivers are advised to give those areas
a wide berth.

“The impact could be slightly cushioned by commuters deciding to work from home, but congestion will still be a problem.”

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