It’s less than 48 hours until the biggest strikes in 85 years take place. Schools will close, immigration controls may be manned by the armed forces, hospitals will be without many members of staff. The government have decided to pick a fight with ordinary working people over pensions, forcing them to pick up the tab for those in the financial sector whose recklessness was matched only by their financial rewards.
And yet still Ed Miliband has failed to unequivocally back the strike action. Six months ago, I said that “By attempting clumsy triangulation, but without conviction, Miliband has kept no-one happy.” If that was bad – and thanks to that horror show of an interview, bad is the very best we can call it – this is much much worse.
At least six months ago Miliband could claim that negotiations were still ongoing. He can try to claim that now (and he has), but on a day when Michael Gove is attacking teachers as “militants”, it’s clear that negotiation is over. There certainly won’t be an 11th hour deal. In fact Francis Maude, the minister in charge, isn’t even chasing one. On the eve of strikes he’d rather meet Young Tories than trade unionists. Miliband has at least aknowledged that the government is determined to force a confrontation with the unions, but he’s yet to go the extra, logical step – and take the side of those under attack against the obvious aggressor.
It’s not as if there wasn’t already a deal in place either. The last Labour government agreed a deal that was hailed by then trade and industry secretary Alan Johnson as “quite a breakthrough”. And yet so far there has been an absence of clear unequivocal support for the legitimate concerns of millions of workers from the shadow cabinet or the leadership – many of whom served in a Labour government who struck the original deal. Miliband has since argued that the deal agreed under Labour was “essentially a framework”. That has the unfortunate whiff of moving the goalposts…
That deal, it seems, is now dead. Killed – like so much these days – on the altar of ham-fisted attempts at “deficit reduction”. Bankers have led this country to the brink. They have been backed to the hilt by the City-funded Tory Party. Yet when ordinary working people are forced to clean up the mess and take the pain, the party funded by working people will not stand up for them, for fear of being attacked by the banker supported party, and the Tory supporting media.
It’s time for Ed Miliband, and the party as a whole, to get off the fence. It’s time for Miliband to be brave and bold (it’s when he’s best) and back the strikes on November 30th. If we believe that the strikes are right and the government are wrong, then let us have the courage of our convictions and take that argument to parliament and to the country. There’s a very simple and powerful argument to be made about a fair deal and keeping our promises as a society to those who engage in public service. It fits so clearly with Miliband’s own agenda it’s astonishing that he hasn’t made it openly, boldly and clearly yet.
Clumsy triangulation without conviction didn’t work six months ago – it won’t work now either.
Update: According to this BBC poll, backing the strikes would not only be the right thing for Miliband to do – it’d be popular too…