Elsewhere, some ministers are taking a sterner line. Francis Maude, the government’s chief negotiator with the unions, has been discretion itself, but now he has apparently threatened (£) the ‘Pilgrims’, union officials working in Whitehall offices who apparently cost more than £80m a year. Maude plans to withdraw public funding from these officials if strikes bring Britain to a halt. Maude’s position seems to be that the unions have the right to air their members’ grievances, but not if it aggrieves the general public. Beyond that measure, rumours of a change in industrial relations laws are now very widespread. It now seems likely that some efforts will be made to insist that union ballots are only binding above a certain threshold, a proposal that has extensive public support.
After the U-turns of recent weeks, a whiff of weakness has attached itself to Cameron’s government. The demise of Edward Heath is proof that the history of union success is a story of the exploitation of political weakness. Cameron is determined not to look weak.