James Forsyth

Brown’s own words mean that the government can’t win the argument with the strikers

Brown's own words mean that the government can't win the argument with the strikers
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If you doubt the trouble the government is in over the wildcat strikes, just listen to Peter Mandelson’s testy interview on the Today Programme. Mandelson was making the case for economic openness, for the benefits that accrue from the free movement of people (a case I, like Alex and Fraser, broadly agree with). John Humphrys kept interrupting him, asking Mandelson to empathise with the skilled worker on Tyneside who has a wife and two children and can’t just up sticks and leave for a job somewhere else in the EU at a moment’s notice.

When Humphrys referred to Poles stealing jobs from British workers, Mandelson snapped and accused him of xenophobia. At which point, Humphrys asked him what he would call Gordon Brown’s ‘British jobs for British workers’ slogans.

This is the problem the government finds itself in. Whether it is playing defence, making the principled argument for the free movement of people, or going on offence, questioning the strikers’ motivations, it will have the Prime Minister’s words throws back in its face. Brown by using this cheap, populist phrase has conceded—and made respectable—the strikers’ essential point.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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