Sunday, March 21, 2010

Leave the 1970s where they belong.

I spoke yesterday about my feelings regarding David Cameron's wish to compare himself to Margaret Thatcher and his almost ridiculous wish to find some kind of comparison between this BA strike and the Winter of Discontent. I am pleased this morning to come across an Independent leader column which makes the very same points.

It is lame of David Cameron to try to pretend that the Strawbs are back. His speech yesterday, in which he tried to present himself as the enemy of vested interests, failed to work on three levels. First, two strikes by BA cabin crew and rail signallers do not constitute a return to the industrial paralysis of the Winter of Discontent. Second, the financial support for the Labour Party from Britain's largest trade union does not mean that the Government is in hock to a vested interest. Third, to compare his own policy of taxing the banks to Margaret Thatcher's stand against the unions is to make what is known as a category error.

The BA strike is an unfortunate and probably unwise dispute. No doubt there have been miscalculations and provocations on both sides. The airline's management, led by Willie Walsh, is certainly right that its costs, mostly in the form of wages, are higher than those of its competitors. But the union has accepted the need for pay cuts and reform of working practices, and most cabin crew are not highly paid. What is undeniable is that union members voted for a strike, by 81 per cent on a 79 per cent turnout. Thus Margaret Thatcher's reforms, trumpeted by Mr Cameron in his speech as a triumph over vested interests, have succeeded: "She broke the stranglehold of the union barons and gave every worker an equal right and equal say." It was stridently partisan and needlessly antagonistic for Mr Cameron to demand in the House of Commons last week that the Prime Minister support strike-breakers who cross picket lines.

This is yet another example of the opportunism which, for me, marks Cameron out as someone who seeks power without fully knowing what he wants to do with it. He has set out no vision for what he wants to do with Britain, but he seems to know the games to play and the stances to take to make the government feel uncomfortable.

But he seldom strikes the right balance.

But Mr Cameron fails the evenhandedness test. Many voters' sense of fairness is offended by the Tory party's mild response to the £63m earned last year by Bob Diamond, president of Barclays, compared with its bullying tone towards low-paid members of the Unite union.

For many, Mr Cameron's attempt to pose as tough on City fat cats rings hollow because he failed to confront Lord Ashcroft, his own party's rich backer.

The difference between Cameron and Thatcher, to whom he vainly yesterday compared himself, is that she believed in certain principles; principles which I did not adhere to, but which she believed in with all her might and shouted from the rooftops.

Cameron, on the other hand, is vague on what his beliefs actually are. He spends more time trying to convince us that he is just "Dave", the guy-next-door-Tory, than he does trying to win any of us over to his political point of view.

I've said it a thousand times, but he is trying to win the next election by default; he is hoping we will elect him simply on the grounds that he is not Gordon Brown.

But the opportunism which led him to compare himself to Thatcher; and the BA strike as some indication that we were, somehow, back in the dark old days of the Winter of Discontent struck me as faintly ridiculous.
He would have been wiser to avoid making parallels with the 1970s. He would have presented a more persuasive argument that a Conservative government would promote fairness if he had not tried to pretend that Mr Brown is James Callaghan and the Thatcher union reforms had never happened.
He found himself championing Thatcher's demand that "every worker have an equal right and an equal say" whilst ignoring the fact that, on a 79% turnout, 81% of BA's workers had voted for the strike. He's arguing that "every worker have an equal right and an equal say" whilst demanding that the wishes of the majority should be ignored.

Demanding that Gordon Brown support strike breakers, despite the fact that the clear majority of the workers had voted for strike action.

He has revealed himself as, instinctively, on the side of management. Which makes a mockery of his argument that he is somehow only concerned that every worker should have his say.

This is not the miners strike, where no ballot was ever held. In this case a ballot was held.

And that ballot undoes Cameron's arguments and makes all of his comparisons between now and the seventies - and himself and Thatcher - utterly redundant.

He's not making an argument, he's effecting a stance; and it's completely hollow.

He's demanding that every worker should have his say whilst, simultaneously, arguing that the wishes of the majority should be ignored.

It's not joined up thinking. And it's certainly not a political philosophy that anyone can understand. It's blatant opportunism, and it's so ill thought out that it simply makes him look foolish.

Click here for full article.

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