Will this ground Labour’s come-back hopes?

Will this ground Labour’s come-back hopes?

Will Cameron be the winner of the BA and rail actions?

Most national strikes have a political dimension and all involving the transport sector do. They impact on millions of voters and how those individuals view the players could determine not just who ‘wins’ or ‘loses’ the strikes but who wins or loses the election too.

The biggest short-term losers in a transport strike are invariably the public, so the blame game becomes all important. Even if aircraft keep flying, there’ll be disruption, uncertainty and worry – and easy pickings for the media covering the story.

Their connection with Unite is probably the biggest danger to the government. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute, it is a Unite strike that’s causing the disruption. Avoiding any collateral PR damage will need some fancy footwork from the government given that Unite provided over a fifth of Labour’s funds last year.

The Conservatives have been playing that link up together with the assertion that it compromises the government in any attempts to resolve the problem. However, they’ll also need to take care at least three counts.

Firstly, there’s a fine line between on the one hand, legitimate comment on the government’s actions and Labour’s financial arrangements and on the other, appearing to seek to gain an advantage out of people’s suffering. Secondly, in attacking Labour and Unite, the Tories need to avoid becoming aligned by default with an intransigent and bellicose BA management. Thirdly, in bringing party funding into the argument, there’s every prospect that the name Ashcroft will re-enter the debate.

With the RMT also getting their members’ approval for strike action (just), the likelihood of even more widespread action in the run-up to or during the election grows greater. Labour’s far less in the firing line there on the union side but the demands on the government to ‘do something’ may well be even more vociferous given the larger number affected. As Network Rail is near-enough nationalised, the government’s unlikely to avoid being caught in the crossfire if the strikes do go ahead.

What of the other political parties? With so many other views for the media to air, they look to be getting squeezed out. If the industrial disputes continue to dominate the news over the next two or three weeks, that could start to hit their poll ratings.

As an aside, if the next BA strike does go ahead, it will probably mean that the Budget will get at most three days’ coverage and be overshadowed in the Sunday newspapers.

Prolonged strikes are always risky for those involved. At least one side is likely to end up a lot worse off at the end and quite possibly all sides. When it affects national transport, the risks are just as big for the politicians. Brown, Woodley, Simpson and Walsh all know this and I suspect are all waiting with the aim of pressuring one of the others to blink first.

David Herdson

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