Should BBC staff strike during the Conservative conference?
I am genuinely in two minds about this issue. I certainly reject some of the arguments against their strike; to my mind the BBC has little impartiality to preserve. It is all very well for Conservatives to bleat about their wounded feelings but they can hardly complain about unions threatening impartiality when they have invited the Director General of the BBC for a cosy tête–à-tête at Number 10 to try to ensure ‘balanced’ coverage of their war on the poor. Also, they have been quite active in trying to load and even dictate who is invited on to programs like Question Time. So, their complaints are frankly, rank hypocrisy. I also reject the notion that unions should not be somehow allowed to make ‘political’ points. Of course, the unions should have complete freedom to enter politics at any time in any way they collectively see fit.
Having said all that I do question the strategic wisdom of the timing of the strike given the fact that the broader public are unlikely to appreciate the finer details of the dispute and the hypocrisy of the opponents of the strike. They will most likely only see an attempt to black out the unions political opponents and it will probably offend some democratic sensibilities. Ed Miliband’s stance is sensible politics given the media barrage he has faced since his election though I question the wisdom of direct intervention. The problem that Labour leaders have with industrial action is they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t and the danger of direct intervention is that we become seen as an extension of ACAS which we are not. Our opponents have it both ways in that we are both supposedly in the unions pockets and also their controllers; we can’t win a battle fought on those terms so it is pointless trying to fight it. Instead of entering into this discourse we need to totally re-frame the debate.
In this we need the help of the unions who need to be more than self-aware of the issues which concern them but also aware of how their actions ‘play out’ in terms of their perception in the wider world. Sometimes its right to charge full-steam ahead and others its right to reflect and even make a magnanimous gesture. In that vein, if they insist on taking strike action they should make such a gesture; say promise to ensure the full broadcast of Cameron’s speech live and uninterrupted. If they did that the public would be much more willing to listen to their case and see the rank hypocrisy of the Conservatives ‘wounded-feeling’ over this issue.