Warwick II: “Bastards! Bastards! Bastards!”

That’s what an angry official close to Labour’s Warwick II policy process spat out to me this week when his pressurised mind drifted onto the subject of the Conservative Party. The Tories believe – perhaps soundly – that they can make political capital out of Labour’s relationship with the unions. But is it fair, objectively speaking? In the week when Labour and the unions came under close scrutiny, and the week before Labour’s National Policy Forum meets in Warwick, it’s worth surveying what’s happened – and asking if Labour’s more scared than it needs to be.

Earlier, the Conservatives cancelled a Parliamentary opposition debate on Warwick II scheduled for Wednesday, and chose to focus on the subject of MPs’ expenses instead. Presumably they though richer pickings were to be found.

That didn’t stop BBC Newsnight from running a report last night on Labour and the unions. Picking up on the local government strikes (see post below), it asked the question: are these strikes intended to put pressure on the government to do the unions’ bidding? There was some suggestive use of visuals, including a list of union demands for Warwick II superimposed on a picture of strikers’ placards.

Putting to one side what the unions are asking for (if you want to find out, pick up a copy of Tribune tomorrow and read my article, plug plug) are this week’s strikes anything to do with it? I can’t see how.

We’ve had local government strikes before, in 2002 and 2006. The 2002 one was twice the size of this year’s – 1.2 million workers out instead of 600,000. But we didn’t have one in 2004 – the time of the last Warwick Agreement. The strikes have been caused by below-inflation pay rises – 2.45 per cent for LG staff this year, when inflation hit 3.8 per cent last month.

So why haven’t Labour come out and said this? Why was the low-profile minister Pat McFadden the only member of the government to show his face on Newsnight to defend Labour’s policy-making process? Labour, the unions and their intermediaries, the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation, appear so wary of being tainted by this week’s strikes that they don’t want to even address the question of strikes as undue influence. I failed to get a statement on the subject for my Tribune story this week.

However, they could argue, if they wanted to, that the strikes are a totally separate issue and furthermore that Labour’s policy-making through the National Policy Forum (an elected body) is more democratic than the Tories’. There’s just one catch, which is that what the NPF agrees is not guaranteed to become policy, while the union shopping list will be considered not just by the NPF but No 10 too. It’s therefore likely to have more leverage. Charlie Whelan, a political officer in Britain’s biggest union Unite, is Gordon Brown’s former spin doctors and likely to be influential on topics he chooses to back – just as he was influential in the selection of Labour’s new general secretary.

But to return to the headline of this post, there is anger and tension over the issue of Warwick II. The issue of secondary picketing (already ruled out by Brown) has become a hot potato, although unions say they are only asking for ‘supportive picketing’ by members of the same companies.

So when Brown, union general secretaries and the NPF all meet in Warwick next week it seems they will be on the defensive and trying to prevent more stories in the “right-wing media” (their words) like this one. With the media camped outside their door, they’ll have a hard time of it.

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2 Responses to “Warwick II: “Bastards! Bastards! Bastards!””

  1. Insomniac Says:

    Initial thought:

    Is the issue of secondary picketing really on the table or even on the menu??

    I had always thought it was like those red lines that Blair/Brown announce they will defend at European meetings. They’re easily defended because there’s never any chance these red lines will be crossed.

    After Warwick II, a triumphant Brown tells the Commons he defended the red-lines on secondary picketing.

  2. Enoch Was Right Says:

    Does Warick II even matter?

    Has Warwick I even been implemented?

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