Alex Massie

An Old Enemy Helps the Coalition

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One difficulty the coalition faces is persuading people that cuts in public spending - and reducing the number of public sector employees - is not in fact an attack on public sector employees. The coalition, contrary to what some pretend, remains in favour of doctors, nurses, police officers and even teachers.

The Prime Minister may say that he's interested in "partnership" with the Trades Unions but, even if genuine, this won't get him anywhere since the Unions are making it quite clear they have little interest in such a notion. Indeed, the TUC appear to be declaring war on the government. How else to interpret its call for "a broad solidarity alliance of unions and communities under threat"? Bob Crow may go further than most in calling for civil disobediance, but privately many comrades will agree with his sentiments, though not perhaps his tactics.

Times may change but some things don't and the Tory right will be up for a fight with the Unions. Nor, I think, will the public be much impressed by widespread - and co-ordinated - industrial action. The Unions may feel they act from a position of some moral strength but I doubt the public will agree with them.

This doesn't mean that the government need seek confrontation. Indeed, since they're going to get it anyway it's important for the government to be seen as the reasonable party. But I suspect that the coalition will win the argument and that the more aggressively they play their hand the more the Unions will do their own cause more harm than good.

Equally, Labour is going to be put into an uncomfortable position. Disappoint the public or disappoint their paymasters? Good luck squaring that circle.

While the coalition can't be seen to agitate for this fight it must, even more in sorrow than in anger, be prepared to fight it properly. Happily, the Unions should prove useful enemies whose excesses should, if the government plays the game properly, help the coalition win the support of Middle England. And that, in turn, should shore up support for overdue, meaningful public sector reform.

So, yeah, Bring It On comrades.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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