When the GMB union invited Vince Cable to address their conference today, I doubt they wanted this: a warning that the government could legislate if the brothers decide to militate. The Business Secretary does add that “the case for changing strike law is not compelling,” so long as industrial action remains limited. But, on the surface, this is still the firmest coalition attack on the unions since David Cameron and Boris wrote that angry article for the Sun in January. And it comes from the side of the coalition, the Lib Dems, who were thought to be opposed to taking on the unions in the first place. Perhaps Cable really is more ruthless on this than his reputation would suggest.
The question, though, is of how the rhetoric will translate to reality. As it stands, Cable has constructed an equation to satisfy both persuasions within government. For those, like Boris, who would prefer tougher action against the unions, there is the potential for just that. For those who point out that the number of working days lost to strikes is at its lowest for six years, and would rather not aggravate the hornets’ nest, there is the promise of no legislation yet. What matters is what happens should the unions decide to up their industrial action. Then we shall see where Cable’s – and the government’s – sympathies really lie.