The Sunday papers are full of the story that Firefighters union leader Andy Gilchrist has called on the unions to “oust Tony Blair” see Independent story.
Not surprisingly the government and other opponents of the strike are weighing in saying this is proof that Tony Blair is right and Gilchrist is a “Scargillite” and therefore that the FBU action is a re-run of the Miners strike. This of course is part of Blair’s sad attempt to present himself as being as tough on trade unions as Margaret Thatcher was.
But lets look at what actually happened yesterday.
Gilchrist was speaking at the left-wing “After New Labour” conference in Manchester so it is not surprising that he told a room full of the Labour left that he wanted to see a “real Labour government” – he was preaching to the converted.
Here, according to the Independent on Sunday is what Gilchrist actually said at this political rally yesterday:
“I’m quite prepared to work to replace New Labour with what I’m prepared to call Real Labour.”
He added: “I have no nostalgic romanticism about old Labour but there are real Labour values built on real social progress, on real justice for working-class people and, indeed, for fairness for all.”
He also attacked the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, for setting aside £1bn in the event of a war with Iraq while refusing to release money to finance the firefighters’ pay demand. He claimed that the Government “ensured and provoked” the fire strike and was “prepared to play with people’s lives”, and called upon fellow trade union leaders to go on the political offensive through their links with Labour.
He said: “Thank God there might be a time after New Labour.”
This is hardly Scargill stuff is it? It is no secret that Gilchrist is on the left of the Labour Party and would like to see a non-Blairite leadership. So in other words – we learn nothing new at all from these over-excited stories.
What it is though is an example of the political agendas of the British press and sadly some niavity from Gilchrist to think that he could attend a rally like this and make those comments without the media picking up on them and the government using them as a stick to beat him and his members with.
This was inevitable when every word he speaks is being analyised and reported in the media – the firefighters strike is big news.
And crucially, when his opponents are, wrongly, claiming this is a politically motivated strike and that firemen are being “misled” by people with a hidden agenda, his comments played into the government’s hands.
Gilchrist’s job is to get the best deal he can for his members and his comments yesterday, while fairly harmless in themselves, will not help. That is the reality of politics.
He made a mistake. He was niave. He should have stayed away from that conference or if he attended he should have stuck to the firefighter’s agenda.
But Gilchrist is not Arthur Scargill and regardless of that his views on Labour’s leadership are essentially irrelevant to the main issue. There is a strong case for firemen getting paid more – simple as that.
Meanwhile the Sunday Telegraph claims the government have a novel solution to avoid any future disputes with the firefighters – they are going to ban them from striking.
Now that does sound like something from the “Scargill era”.