Recently, the Tories have been highlighting Labour’s links with the Unions, in particular Unite in a clear response to Labour’s Lord Ashcroft attacks. Without question Labour is closely connected with Unite, whose political director, Charlie Whelan happens to be a former advisor to Number 10 and was allegedly one of those who unleashed the forces of hell on Alistair Darling.
But, are the Conservatives asking for trouble by going down this road?
The Conservatives seem to think that voters will be astonished that Labour has links with the Unions. Umm, that is just the way it is and the way it has always been, it isn’t going to change and it isn’t a surprise to the public. Issue over.
The Conservatives also seem to be under the impression that this connection will outrage voters. Well, again, everyone knows Labour and the Unions are one and the same, so no outrage. However, instead of leaking a great secret, they are running a dangerous gauntlet. Sure, union power and membership is at a historic low, but there are still a lot of people who are union members and a lot still who have sympathy for them. The Conservatives have to be very, very careful that they don’t threaten these voters.
Unlike previous points in history, many of these members or sympathisers could have voted Conservative at this election, because of the uncertainty over Brown and the desire for change and the fact people realised they can think for themselves. However, how will these voters react to Cameron trashing the Unions and at the same time talking about public spending cuts and an age of austerity? People will add this up to mean Cameron will come down hard on the unions if he won, leading to less protection to workers, especially in the public sector, when the inevitable time for job cuts arrive. The threat to worker protection will make union voters run away from the Conservatives and back into the waiting arms of the Labour Party, who will always protect the unions.
Cameron today in PMQs spoke about breaking the picket line. Whether you are a member of a union or not, many many people feel uncomfortable with crossing a picket line. I do and I’m not a member of a union. It’s a call to action for the Tory base, but it will not necessarily grab the swing votes.
Ashcroft is also an issue in this. Why is this being raised? Because the Tories want to fight back against the Ashcroft scandal. By attacking Labour funding, they just allow Labour to bring back the Ashcroft issue again and again and again. The Tories think attack is the best form of defence and sometimes it is, but other times well should be left alone.
Finally, the Tories are obviously trying to hark back to the bad old days of the Winter of Discontent. But Labour supporters and the Unions haven’t forgotten what came after that Winter, their mortal enemy Margaret Thatcher. When Cameron talks about crossing picket lines, removing union power and significant cuts to public spending people’s minds will start reaching some uncomfortable connections.
Brown is suggesting that Cameron is trying to fuel the strike, rather than help it come to a resolution, this too is going to scare people, because it suggests to them, Cameron is for divisive politics, while Brown is trying to create himself as the great unifier. Will it work? Possibly not, but Brown suggests if there is a strike, it will be more the fault of the Tories than Labour. This of course is a tad ridiculous considering the Conservatives are in Opposition, but if sold well, it could stick in the minds of the public.
But how will this resolve itself? If the BA concerns are solved and the strike averted, then Brown will appear to be the great saviour. If there is still a strike, Labour will blame the Tories and maybe get away with it. It is an interesting situation and I think the Conservatives may have fallen into a trap. It will be interesting to see if they get out of it, but this is election politics for you.
Cross posted with Ruder Finn DotCom.