After the lukewarm speech and a strike vote, will the unions call for a referendum?
When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, it usually seemed as though his speech to the TUC was just something that had to be “got through”, and especially post-Iraq, it never looked like an occasion that Blair or the unions found either enjoyable or useful.
Somewhat ironic then that Brown, who is far more steeped in Labour tradition than his predecessor ever was, even while being at the heart of New Labour, had such a flat response at Brighton, one which was described as tepid rather than hostile, followed by a 30-second sitting ovation – indeed some delegates said that Blair’s speeches were better!
However, as Brown tries to keep Labour firmly in the centre of British politics, an unenthusiastic response from the unions is not necessarily bad news for him. If he had been cheered to the rafters at the TUC, the tabloids would have hailed a return to the “beer and sandwiches” days. So although the speech didn’t come across as being good for Gordon, actually the reaction it got may have been no bad thing for him in a wider political context.
The PM will not have enjoyed yesterday’s motion passed by the TUC though, which calls for co-ordinated action by public sector workers over the government’s 2% pay limit and privatisation. Not surprisingly, the spectre of a “winter of discontent” is being raised in the press. There is also trouble brewing over Brown’s plans to weaken the unions’ influence within the Labour party.
Today’s votes on a referendum for the EU Treaty look set to be problematic too. The GMB motion simply calls for a referendum, while the RMT’s demands a “No” vote as well. Should either of these pass, this will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Brown and keep the Treaty firmly centre stage. Not only that, but Cameron has vowed to force an early vote on the issue when parliament resumes after the conference season.
Brown will be hoping that the TUC motions on the referendum fall, although this will probably only give him a short breathing space before the Treaty rears its head again, and it will be interesting to see to what extent it pops up at the forthcoming Lib Dem and Labour gatherings.
Now where’s that betting market?
Paul Maggs “Double Carpet”
Mike Smithson returns on 17th September
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