Barber, cuts and stuffed pay packets….
You have to hand it to Brendan Barber, the head of the Trades Union Congress, realising that for once the media would be very interested in what the unions have to say, has given Gordon Brown something of a hard act to follow. His warning of four million unemployed and riots on the streets might seem a little melodramatic; because it is, but it is also not beyond the bounds of possibility. Mr Barber has set out quite a stall for himself and he has made it clear that he will not be moved; you can hardly blame him, this is not a fight the unions can afford to duck and it’s keen interest in preserving its last power base is to be expected. Never underestimate people with nothing to lose and that is very much the situation that the unions find themselves in here; they simply cannot afford to see their membership cast onto Jobseekers Allowance.
He also made it quite clear to David Cameron that no amount of courtship will smooth the path for him doing any of the above:
“If a Conservative government was elected that was taking the axe to the public sector, that might well provoke a reaction. There would be that danger.”
Cutbacks maybe the electoral flavour of the month but if the unions point to the rising level of executive pay while their members are losing their jobs they are unlikely to find themselves alone in questioning if the pain and sacrifice is falling in proportionally the right place. Nor should they be alone; whether people like it or not the recent opinion polling does show a clear will that those with more lead from the front in sharing burden of recovery given that they benefitted most from the previous happier economic climate.
Also, while Cameron might find himself elected next time with what he believes is wide-ranging support for cutbacks he will have to remember that once people start to feel better they will not be so accepting of ‘austerity’ and that they will soon demand a positive, more aspirational vision of where the country is headed. The importance of a positive vision is something that Tony Blair grasped but he has simply failed to do; no doubt this is why though the Conservatives are headed for government they do so not on the tide of popular enthusiasm Blair did. In the long run it is this that I believe will undo Cameron and the Conservatives and will give their opposition a wealth of opportunities….