An old boss of mine once said to me: when you start a new assignment, seek out a fight — and win it. The same advice should be given to incoming Prime Ministers. U-turns, as Mrs Thatcher knew, just create demand for more U-turns. If the government is willing to revise its NHS plans, then why not reopen the Defence Review, or alter the pledge to spend 0.7 of our national income on overseas aid (or at least abandon the questionable idea of legislating for it)?
But seeking out and winning battles, while avoiding too many retreats, is not enough. To be great, a Prime Minister needs good enemies. Mrs Thatcher had great enemies in Michael Foot and Neil
Kinnock. Tony Blair did too. David Cameron does not — Ed Miliband is many things, but he is both too feeble and too bland to be a good enemy.
Now, however, it seems the government will have exactly what it needs — a good fight against a good enemy on a good issue. I am of course thinking of the threat by hundreds of thousands of public sector workers to go on strike against pay freezes and pension changes. The result of a strike ballot by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is due to be announced today, with officials expecting approval for a walk-out. It follows votes by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) in favour of industrial action.
Planned for later in the month, the strike would cause disruption for millions of children at thousands of schools.