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Article – the strikes are significant, but they won’t determine the election

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Here’s an article I wrote for Catch21 – the UK’s first internet television channel based at Westminster – run by young people, for young people

It’s looking pretty certain that the general election is indeed going to be held on May 6th. So the budget Alistair Darling ‘unveils’ this today is really a bit of a lame duck – despite claims that it won’t contain any ‘giveaways’, he can say pretty much whatever he likes as there’s very little chance he’s going to be walking back into the Treasury come May 7th.

Be this as it may, the budget does still remain politically significant. Not least because of the current disputes over British Airways cabin crew, but more so because of the rail strikes that are looming large on the horizon -if there is one way you really you want to infuriate middle England it is to grind all the commuter trains to a halt. Yes the grounding of planes will annoy a few thousand people, but if the trains stop we will begin to see some real anger emerge from the hundreds of thousands who daily use Britain’s rail network.

The disputes therefore could not come at a worse time for the Labour government as they’ve exposed their dependency on the trade unions. Unite (who represent the BA cabin crew) have given £11million to the party over the last two years and funds 148 of its constituency offices.

Ironically though, it is precisely because of this closeness that Gordon Brown decided to speak out against Unite last week. Clearly Number 10 feels the union should be more sensitive to them just weeks before a general election.

But need the Labour government worry so much? Are these strikes going to re-awaken the fears of the 1970’s and sap momentum from their recent resurrection in the polls?

If the country was in good shape then maybe yes, but there are so many things that people are unhappy about, so many things not to vote in favour of Mr Brown for that, if anything, his offensive tactics will help the Labour cause rather than hinder it.

Consider the storm whipped up by the Conservatives following the revelations in Andrew Rawnsley’s book ‘The End of the Party’ that labelled the Prime Minister as a ‘bully.’ The ploy backfired and the public actually accepted his aggression and hard-line approach as the required method needed for the tough times.

Spared this time around from attacks by the Tories (who are quite happily sitting back on this one and allowing it to draw energy away from the Ashcroft debacle), Brown is hoping public sympathy will be thin and sparse for the BA staff – Labour will be keen to point out that these workers already get paid double that of those peers who work for Virgin Atlantic and other companies.

However, strike or no strike, the mere fact that the issue is back in the media spotlight helps foster this image that Britain simply isn’t functioning – the old cries from Thatcher’s 1979 campaign of ‘Labour isn’t working’ are reverberating again.


Written by Robert Dale

March 24, 2010 at 12:11 am