Don't rise to Tory bait, the rail strikes are their fault, Alistair Darling tells Labour

21 June 2022, 20:04

Alistair Darling speaks to Andrew Marr
Alistair Darling speaks to Andrew Marr. Picture: LBC

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Alistair Darling has urged Labour not to rise to Tory "bait" over this week's train strikes, adding the disruption is happening under the Conservative Party's watch.

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The chancellor during Gordon Brown's premiership also dismissed Boris Johnson as "unfit to be prime minister" and warned of the dangers of the Government's lack of action on the economy.

It came as the largest rail strike for a generation caused severe disruption on Tuesday, with more cancellations happening on Wednesday and further action on Thursday and Saturday.

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Some 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail and 13 train operators walked out in a bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

Tory MPs have blamed the Labour Party for the strike, which has confused some since the Conservatives have been in power for the last 12 years. Some Labour MPs have been very supportive of the action.

Mr Darling said: "Do not rise to the Tory party's bait, they'd like nothing better when they've got all the problems they've got to [blame Labour}.

"These strikes are happening under the Tory watch, so it's their thing, they're the Government, they're the Government that's supposed to bring an end to that.

"What the Labour Party needs to concentrate on, at the moment people are fairly fed up with the Tory party for obvious reasons, they've got to set out their stall of what the country will look like under a Labour government."

Mr Darling also expressed concerns over the Government's handling of the country's economic situation as inflation spirals.

"The thing that worries me is because people are now thinking inflation's here to stay, and the Government is not doing very much about it or showing that there is a way forward through that, the risk is you start embedding it, you go back to the 1970s," he said.

Asked by Andrew for his thoughts on Mr Johnson, Mr Darling described the PM as "a recruiting sergeant" for Scottish nationalists who want to leave the United Kingdom.

He added: "I do not think he's fit to be prime minister, I think he is dragging us down internationally, the fact you've got somebody you cannot rely on what he's saying and has been doing it for years, that for me renders him unfit to be prime minister."

Just a fifth of trains ran on Tuesday and half of all lines were closed.

The chaos will continue on Wednesday, with only 60% of trains running, mainly due to a delay to the start of services as signallers and control room staff are not doing overnight shifts.

London Underground services have also been suspended on the vast majority of lines due to a walkout by workers.

RMT general-secretary Mick Lynch said: "Today's turnout at picket lines has been fantastic and exceeded expectations in our struggle for job security, defending conditions and a decent pay rise.

"Our members will continue the campaign and have shown outstanding unity in the pursuit of a settlement to this dispute.

"RMT members are leading the way for all workers in this country who are sick and tired of having their pay and conditions slashed by a mixture of big business profits and Government policy.

"Now is the time to stand up and fight for every single railway worker in this dispute that we will win."

He has warned the dispute could continue for months.

Mr Johnson told a meeting of the Cabinet that reforms are vital for the rail industry and passengers.

"I say this to the country as a whole, we need to get ready to stay the course," he said.

"To stay the course, because these reforms, these improvements in the way we run our railways are in the interests of the travelling public, they will help to cut costs for farepayers up and down the country."

Talks between the RMT, Network Rail and train companies will resume on Wednesday.

No meetings were held on Tuesday as the first strike went ahead.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "These are desperately needed reforms that modernise the railway and put it on a sustainable footing for passengers and taxpayers.

"Unions have shut down big parts of the rail network, hitting local businesses and unfairly cutting people off from hospitals, schools and work.

"However, early data shows that unlike in the past many people now have the opportunity to work from home, so we haven't seen a rush to the roads, as traffic has instead gone online, which means the unions aren't having the overall impact they might have hoped."