SIR Keir Starmer has insisted he is a “proud” trade unionist.

The Labour leader has come under pressure from some backbenchers over his position on frontbenchers on picket lines.

In July, he sacked shadow minister for busses and local transport Sam Tarry after the MP joined an RMT picket line.

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Other senior Labour figures, including shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, took to picket lines over the summer despite Starmer's ruling that frontbenchers should stay away. 

And, during the Q&A on BBC Radio 5 Live, in an exchange over the energy crisis, one caller told Starmer: “The public is more left-wing than the Labour Party at the moment.”

Asked about the sacking of Tarry during the interview, Starmer said: “Nobody has been fired for going on a picket line.

“When it comes to those disputes, I completely understand why so many working people feel they need a wage increase.

The National: Tarry was sacked from the front bench after attending a picket line Tarry was sacked from the front bench after attending a picket line

“I completely understand what people are going through and I support the right to strike.”

Starmer said it is simply a “question of roles”.

“I want to be the Labour prime minister. I don’t think the role of the prime minister is (to) have a Cabinet meeting and then go on to a picket line.”

Labour previously said Tarry had been dismissed because he had broken the code of “collective responsibility” among the Labour frontbench, which requires senior MPs to have their media appearances approved by party high command.

Starmer then denied Labour’s energy policy amounts to “kicking the can down the road”, but acknowledged that something will have to be done early next year to tackle the crisis in the longer term.

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The Labour leader was quizzed on his plans to tackle soaring energy bills going beyond the middle of next year.

One listener told him: “The public is more left-wing than the Labour Party at the moment.”

Starmer said: “I don’t accept that is kicking the can down the road.”

He said his party’s plan is “meeting the concerns of millions of people”.

He said he understands the scale of the challenge facing households, adding that “many people listening and watching this will be saying ‘I can’t afford that'”.

The National: The Labour leader insisted he is a "proud trade unionist"The Labour leader insisted he is a "proud trade unionist"

Pressed on his longer-term plans, he pointed to his party’s call for a national mission on home insulation.

“On the question of what we do long term, I am completely up for that challenge,” he told the programme.

“I accept the challenge that something has got to be done in April.”

Of the Government, he said: “I don’t think we are approaching this in the right way, because we keep coming up with short-term answers.”

What is Labour's plan to deal with the energy crisis?

The party has pitched a six-month freeze on energy bills at the current £1971 price cap, funded in part by expanding the windfall tax on oil and gas profits.

Starmer also said during the policy launch that scrapping the planned increases in the price cap would keep inflation down, seeing it peak at about 9% rather than the 13% the Bank of England is forecasting.

The Labour leader also said in August that his party would not go ahead with the £400 rebate on energy bills that the Government has promised all households in October, saying: “We’re not going to let the price go up in the first place and so that’s how the £400 is catered for.

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“The bit we’re not cancelling is the £650 to pensioners and those on Universal Credit, so that is targeted support we would keep.”

Some experts and think tanks have warned that such a plan would prove inadequate to the scale of the cost-of-living crisis.

And, economists warned the plan could cost as much as the Covid furlough scheme if extended, while some on Labour’s left criticised Starmer rejection of calls for the nationalisation of energy firms in favour of handing them billions of pounds to make up for the difference between rising wholesale costs and what they charge customers.