Saturday, April 03, 2010

Why the election will take us back to the 70s

The writing was on the wall for Labour when Prime Minister “sunny” Jim Callaghan flew home from the Caribbean in the depths of the “Winter of Discontent”.

He was so laid-back about the chaos in the country he provoked the headline: “Crisis? What crisis?”

The unions were running wild, with strikes everywhere. Rubbish piled up in the streets. The dead went unburied. Hospitals treated emergencies only.

In the winter of 1978-9, punk was taking over. Bands like the Stranglers spat at their audiences in much the same way as the union leaders were spitting at the people of Britain.

Labour lost the 1979 General Election to Margaret Thatcher. Callaghan had bottled the chance to hold an earlier election which he might have won. Some things never change.

QWe've had an Easter of unrest, a Prime Minister who chickened out of an earlier election, financial chaos and strikes coming thick and fast.

Chancellor Alistair Darling even had to brave a gauntlet of pickets on his way to the Commons to deliver his damp-squib Budget.

Civil servants walked out again. British Airways is in chaos. We still face rail and gas strikes. Even university professors are threatening to down quills.

Is this just a terrible coincidence or a co-ordinated effort by the unions?

Many people thought Mrs Thatcher killed off the last of those dinosaurs in the 1980s but it looks as if they’re coming back to life like some monster from beyond the grave.

As we all know very well following the BA trolley-dollies’ strike, the Unite union has given Labour £11 million since Gordon Brown became leader.

Unite is Labour’s Lord Ashcroft pumping money into Labour seats and running the party’s campaign in marginal constituencies.

You’d have thought the unions – which, in effect, own the Labour Party – would not want to bring down this Government.

They way they are behaving suggests they’d like to see Labour kicked out in much the same way that Jim Callaghan’s lot were ousted in 1979.

It looks as if pre-election strikes are part of a long-term plot to gain control over Labour when it’s in Opposition and turn it into the left-wing Socialist party the unions have always yearned for.

Leaked e-mails from union barons show they are determined to get more value for their money.

One of them promises: “In the past unions had large parliamentary groups but few MPs actually bothered to take account of our policies. This will change!”

The unions may be flexing their muscles as a warning to the Conservatives – and, possibly, the voters – that there is much worse to come under a David Cameron Government.

Mr Darling’s Budget skirted round the terrible black hole in the Government’s finances. After the election, someone must start filling it in.

That means higher taxes and public spending cuts. Look what’s happening in France. President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to cut public spending have led to humbling defeat in local elections and nationwide strikes.

Of course, it could be our union barons are simply the dumb, pig-headed bullies they always were.

They certainly have no concern for the best interests of the people who pay to keep their members in jobs.

But it is baffling to watch them hammer the final nail into the coffin of this Labour Government.

Gordon Brown doesn’t really need their help to lose the election – he’s got taxi-for-hire Stephen Byers, Geoff “Buff” Hoon and Patricia Hewitt to secure defeat for him.

Even so, if the unions own Labour and they want to use their power, you’d think it was in their interests to get Mr Brown re-elected rather than see the Conservatives take over.

Yet every strike or dispute so close to the election is another good reason for people to vote Conservative.

Without the help of the unions, Mrs Thatcher would not have won in 1979. They convinced voters that the country was in a hole and it was time to stop digging.

History is repeating itself though, now we don’t have any heavy industry, the unions’ shock troops are air stewardesses and railway signalmen rather than miners and car-workers.

Labour Governments traditionally collapse amid economic chaos, industrial unrest and allegations of sleaze and graft.

This time, the unions appear to think that a few years of a Tory Government with a small majority is a price worth paying if they can seize control of Labour when it’s in Opposition.

For that plot to work, they must assume Labour could win the election after next and Britain would welcome into power a party led by someone like Ed Balls.

Chillingly, they may only be warming up for battles to come. There is a real risk they will confront a new Conservative Prime Minister just as the unions took on Mrs Thatcher in the early 1980s.

There will be riots on the streets before the year is out.

Only then will we find out if David Cameron is just “the heir to Blair” or whether he’s got some of the Iron Lady in his soul. For the sake of Britain, let’s hope he’s a Thatcherite after all.

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