Labour has been “leading” on the cost-of-living crisis, Sir Keir Starmer has claimed as he promised to unveil “comprehensive” proposals to address rocketing energy bills on Monday.
It comes after the Labour leader faced criticism within his own party for not doing enough to address the scale of the crisis and a lack of radical ideas to help Britons facing bills exceeding £4,000.
In recent days Gordon Brown, the former Labour prime minister, has made several interventions, including a demand for ministers to immediately suspend the energy price cap rise.
A bloc of left-wing Labour MPs — including former shadow chancellor John McDonnell — have also demanded a recall of parliament, saying it will be “imperative” for the government to act before September.
But in his first public appearance since returning from holiday, Sir Keir addressed criticism of him not being more vocal on the cost-of-living crisis in recent days, claiming: “For the best part of 12 months, Labour has been absolutely leading on the issue”.
He referenced Labour’s campaign for a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas companies — a policy eventually adopted by Boris Johnson’s government — and demand to scrap VAT on energy bills.
“On Monday I’m going to be setting out a comprehensive set of proposals, a plan for how we handle the upcoming costs in the autumn,” he added.
Earlier Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, also defended Sir Keir, telling LBC: “He is working like he does every day on the job. I honestly cannot fault the man’s work ethic.”
Pressed about whether the opposition leader was on annual leave, Mr Reynolds added: “I think he is spending some time with his family and that is the right thing to do, but I cannot fault the man’s work ethic, he has been relentless since he became leader of the opposition.”
The Labour frontbencher also said the party was “getting the detail” of its plans ready to intervene on rising energy bills, adding it had only had success with calling for a windfall tax because its proposals were detailed and costed.
Sir Keir’s remarks on Friday also came after Mr Johnson signalled that he believes the current package of measures offered by his government are not enough to support British households.
But the outgoing prime minister has made clear it will be for his successor in No 10 — either Liz Truss, or Rishi Sunak — to announce any “significant fiscal” interventions.
Hitting out at the inaction, Sir Keir labelled Mr Johnson a “lame duck”, saying: “We do need a strategic, a credible, plan and that’s exactly what’s missing from this government.”
“For weeks now, and for weeks to come, we’ve seen the spectacle of two leadership hopefuls fighting each other, internal battle, actually arguing about just how bad they’ve been in government and a prime minister who is a lame duck because he recognises there’s a problem with energy bills, but says I’m not going to do anything about it”.
Nadhim Zahawi, the chancellor, has insisted, however, that the government is currently working on options so the new prime minister “can hit the ground running” after 5 September.
Mr Zahawi said officials at the Treausry were “looking at all the options”, and said meeting with energy firms had looked “at what more we can do on direct debit, on pre-payment meters”.
Last night Labour launched the first part of its plan, with a proposal to scrap “outrageous” rules which see customers using prepayment meters pay a higher price for energy.
Energy regulator Ofgem earlier this year increased the annual price cap for an average household on default tariffs paying by direct debit from £1,277 to £1,971 – a £693 increase.
But for prepayment customers, who are often from lower-income households, there was a £708 increase from £1,309 to £2,017.
With bills now expected to increase to more than £4,200 in January, Labour said the disparity will widen, leaving prepayment customers paying an additional £100 between January and March alone.