Let’s be quite frank. Lord Adonis’s ‘intervention’ in the BA/Unite dispute was a disgrace. Rather than take at least a balanced view Adonis laid into Unite:
“It’s totally unjustified, this strike, on the merits of the issues at stake, and I do call on the union to engage constructively with the company.”
I struggled in vain to find remarks from Adonis condemning the outrageous way that BA used the courts to quash the first strike ballot; or indeed, condemnation of the fact that it was BA’s management that withdrew the latest offer at the 11th hour. Such a one-sided bias on a topic like this should not be expected from a Labour minister; Unite and Labour members are entitled to expect and demand better from our leaders.
This should not be misread. Though personally I am sympathetic to Unite’s case, what I don’t realistically expect is blind subservience to the union line. However, that cuts both ways – what makes Adonis’s remarks beyond the pale in my eyes is that they are blindly subservient, but to the other side.
Gordon Brown, attempting to strong-arm the union back to work, doesn’t rank much better than Adonis in the mediator stakes. Underpinning the remarks of Adonis and actions of Brown is a deep-seated fear on the part of the leadership that being seen to be close to the unions will be politically damaging as the right-wing press and the Conservatives desperately scramble to cobble together a case that Labour is at the beck-and-call of its union ‘paymasters’.
But the Conservative attacks are delusional and our leadership’s paranoia is annoying to say the least; neither realise the fact the climate has changed since the late 1970s and early ’80s. People don’t exactly love the unions but they don’t hate them either and while the Conservative attacks may fire the hearts of the faithful they do not plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the swing voter. When people think of vested interests they think of banks and the City. The nervous middle-class swing voter – especially if employed in the public sector – is likely to be supporting the last bulwark of unionism, and is hardly likely to take fright at the “beer and sandwiches” bogeymen invoked by the Telegraph et al. Put simply, people are not in the mood to care too much if Labour is in the pocket of the unions or not.
But there is a broader point. The union link is something that makes Labour different. Presented the correct way it’s actually something that could benefit us in the polls. If unions were prepared to broaden their base in partnership with the Labour Party and become rooted in their local communities (rather than predominantly in the workplace) they could be on the cusp of a renaissance.
So, rather than running scared of the union link, we should be cherishing, nourishing and nurturing it. Labour’s leadership should remember that it’s 2010, not 1983. If we continue to run scared of our past, it shows that we have in fact not taken the correct lessons from it, and as a party are prisoner of it. The next election is all about the future both of Britain and of the Labour Party; the one-sided sniping of the likes of Lord Adonis has no place in that future.