Ed should take sides in the tanker dispute….
I can hear the hailstorm of objections already. Many will say it’s not politically wise for a Labour leader to take sides explicitly in an industrial dispute and maybe it always isn’t. However, on the other hand, the dispute between Unite, representing oil tanker drivers, and the distribution companies has become an overtly political issue. This is down to the disgraceful and provocative behaviour of the government which has done everything it can at every turn to ensure there is a strike. The governments continuation of contingency plans, even while negotiations are taking place and seem to be progressing towards a settlement, is an act of provocation.
We all know that this government is aching for a strike, so it can have its ‘Thatcher moment’ and “humiliate the unions”. It is desperate for this to happen because it is currently lurching from one policy disaster to another. The latest example of this are the shambolic cuts to charity donations tax relief. Number 10 say that the rich use donations to charity to avoid tax; however, following the generalised outcry it is being forced to back down and reconsider the proposals. This is the latest in a series of public relations and policy disasters which included the preparation of jerry-cans across the nation for the strike that now appears very unlikely to happen. Finally, Mr Cameron is facing a generalised revolt, not just from the wider country but his own Party members too, so, now is the time for Mr Miliband to prove to a skeptical electorate he is a Prime Minister in-waiting. He could also shore up his support from Labour members and trade union activists, a win-win for him.
In this context, it is quite right and proper that the leader of the Labour Party makes a clear and unequivocal statement saying that the concerns of the tanker drivers must be addressed through negotiation firstly, as they are being, and that the government ceases its politically motivated meddling. He should also praise Unite’s handling of the dispute which has shown decorum and tact and given the lie to the propagandist myth that it is a ‘devil-eyed’ enemy within. The tanker drivers are not raising issues that are in the slightest way connected with their own betterment, ie, demanding a pay increase but in fact raising issues that should concern us all as road users, that is the establishment of safe working conditions which ensure not just their safety but that of the general public as well. As such, they deserve a fair and balanced hearing and they also deserve a Labour leader who will stand-up for them and articulate their concerns to a general public which is already annoyed with the government handling of the dispute.
I doubt, as people would doubtless argue, in this context, Mr Miliband would suffer serious political damage from making such a move because not only will he be representing the concerns of Unite members but also the frustrations of a mislead public as well. In fact, he may well find himself rewarded for showing the leadership skills that the British public clearly feel he lacks. It is time for Ed to get off the fence and pick his side in this dispute and show us that he can be the leader his campaign promised he would be.