Keir Starmer has set up a fresh clash with his own senior MPs by again ordering them to stay away from picket lines mounted by striking workers.
Several shadow ministers defied the Labour leader by joining protests during last month’s rail dispute – after which he backed down on a threat to discipline them.
But Sir Keir has waded back into the controversy, ahead of fresh rail strikes and the Royal Mail dispute, saying: “The Labour party in opposition needs to be the Labour party in power.
“And a government doesn’t go on picket lines, a government tries to resolve disputes,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
Even some of Sir Keir’s closest supporters called his first picket line ban a mistake, when he was accused of “hiding” from the strikes mounted by the RMT union over pay and redundancies.
Speaking after Monday’s stormy TV Tory leadership race debate, the Labour leader condemned Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak “talking about clothing and earrings instead of the health service”.
“If ever there was an example of a party that is absolutely lost the plot, lost any sense of purpose, then it was that debate last night,” he alleged.
But Sir Keir declined to say whether a Labour government would give public sector workers inflation-matching pay rises, arguing its job would be to “create the framework for success” in negotiations.
The Labour leader said: “I support the right to strike but I think the role of government is to facilitate, make sure those negotiations take place to an agreed settlement.”
He also pledged: “An incoming Labour government would put in place stronger employment rights for people from day one in the job.”