With friend like these …Gordon and the Unions

September 8, 2007

welsh-battle.jpg The new Prime Minister faces the annual conference season. It will be a testing time for Gordon Brown during which we may learn a little more of his longer-term plans and short-term tactics related to industrial relations

This week, Bob Crow, leader of the RMT Union, brought his transport members out on a lightening strike, to the inconvenience of London’s commuters, and the fury of London’s mayor, Ken Livingstone.

‘Nobody loves us we don’t care’

I was reminded of Millwall’s football chant when I read that Bob Crow was a Millwall fan. According to a reliable source, the song can be read as postmodern irony associated with the defiance of Bermondsey’s dockland’s culture towards its detractors.

The song was a reaction to what the Millwall fans perceived to be sustained, exaggerated and unfair criticism of their behaviour by the press and the stereotypical image of all Millwall fans as hooligans, perpetuated by certain sections of the media in general.

I have heard it remarked that at Girton College before male students were admitted, the gals also had been known to chorus the Millwall anthem. Perhaps that was another postmodern gesture, indicating distain for the behaviors displayed towards Girton’s students by Oxford’s chauvinistic males.

But to return to our main story … This week, Bob’s actions brought his members out on strike, and dragged London Mayor Ken Livingstone into the dispute with a few far-from-brotherly remarks.

As the BBC put it

For Ken Livingstone, its decision was unfathomable.
“This must be the first time in history of a union going on strike when everyone has acceded to their demands,” he said.
Mr Livingstone added that he could not “explain the mindset” of the RMT

Bob Crow

To his many critics, Bob Crow is an unwanted throwback to the

worst excesses of 1970s union militancy… To his supporters, however, the 46-year-old leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union is simply a resolute defender of workers’ rights.

RMT members may hold Mr Crow in great esteem, but he is certainly not liked by the Labour government, which has historically branded him “a wrecker” … Back in 2004 his hostility to the Labour came to a head when the RMT broke its ties with the party – a link which dated back to 1899 – following a row over the RMT’s decision to allow local branches to affiliate with other parties.

Bob and the Treaty

Mr Crow has also been in the headlines for his support to the movement calling for a referendum over the new EU treaty. We have commented on this in an earlier post, as had The BBC

The RMT’s motion asks the TUC to campaign for a “no” vote, if a referendum is held on whether to adopt the treaty. Its general secretary, Bob Crow, told the BBC: “They [the government] went to the British people on the promise there would be a referendum … What we want him [Gordon Brown] to do is implement what his manifesto was.”

What’s going on?

The reported stories indicate that the RMT union is embroiled in an industrial dispute. Also it is becoming involved in the wider debate on Britain’s role in the EU. It joins a rainbow alliance ranged against the Government in calling for a referendum.

Without more information we have to speculate on whether the two stories are interconnected. The imminence of the so-called (political) conference season suggests they are.

Whatever the intentions of Mr. Crow, the intentions of Mr. Brown and Mr. Cameron are clear. Both are seeking to hold on to their territory on Middle-earth, and perhaps expand it. But to do this, Mr. Brown was to reassure the inhabitants of Middle- earth that he is in no way in thrall to the dark forces, particularly those of the left. Mr. Cameron is also having to calm concerns that he is abandoning his allies from the right.

With these considerations in mind, neither Mr. Brown nor Mr. Cameron wants to be too friendly to Mr. Crow.

So that old refrain may well be rather apt. Nobody loves me and I don’t care, and I can be very difficult when I get upset.

Outcome. Skirmishes. Casualties mainly to the front-line troops caught up in a rather complicated set of political moves. Troops watch on sympathetically from the ranks of the Post Office workers. They are caught in a similar difficult position to defend.

Acknowlegement

Image is from Google, citing Ben Becker’s armies of painted warriors as a representation of a battle beween the Celts and the Romans.


Margaret Hodge: A good time to resign?

May 26, 2007

_42947981_hodge_bbc66.jpgResignation from public office is an extreme leadership decision. It can make or mar a career. But resigning is not necessarily a forced move. Margaret Hodge may find it an option worth considering.

Margaret Hodge has taken a high-profile position over immigration. So high-profile and dangerous that I am inclined to fall back on one of my favorite metaphors – chess as a source of leadership insights. Margaret is in a tricky position, so she weighs up the possibilities, and makes a dangerous move in an attempt to break free. In chess terms, it’s a forced move. Or no-brainer.

In chess, faced with a forced move, a player will sometimes stare at the board, wasting valuable time, looking for another playable move. This is mostly futile. It’s better to make the move and take the consequences, or resign and take the consequences of that.

There might be another move

Even in chess, there may be an overlooked possibility. Training books have examples of positions in which a player has resigned, failing to see an unexpected move. The forced moves believed to lead to certain defeat were not forced after all.

So let’s look at the salient features of the position Margaret Hodge finds herself in. The problems appear to be to do with social housing, the British term for state-provided housing, traditionally controlled by local councils, hence ‘council estates’. But council estates impact on national politics.

A tale of two Margarets

Margaret Thatcher believed that selling off as much council housing stock as possible would be a good step in her social revolution. Her opponents point to that decision as a disaster in its longer-term consequences. According to the BBC

More than 1.5m homes have been sold off since the Conservative government introduced “right to buy” legislation in the 1980s.

The Treasury-sponsored Barker report said in 2004 that Britain needs to build 140,000 new homes a year – of which 23,000 should be social housing units – if housing supply is to meet demand. The Lib Dems say there are 1.6m families on waiting lists for social housing – compared to 1m in 1997.

There are more than 8,000 families on the waiting list in Margaret Hodge’s Barking constituency alone. There is concern Labour voters are turning to the BNP, which blames the shortages on immigration. Labour’s left blames the shortage on Tory “right to buy” policies and the government’s reluctance to build more council houses

It is hardly surprising if Margaret Hodge has drawn attention to the issue. As a Minister of State she has chosen to make broaden the debate.

Ken has his say

Ken Livingstone is well-aware of London’s housing problems. His high-profile actions as Mayor have not enabled him to influence local council housing decisions. His frustration is evident in his observations:

Margaret Hodge is wrong. Far from it being the case that immigrants are jumping the housing queue, the opposite is true, with immigrants naturally finding it very much harder to find their way round a system with which they are not familiar … Instead of making remarks which will be seen as scapegoating immigrants, senior politicians like Margaret Hodge should be working to solve the real housing shortage affecting all communities. [Her] suggestion that housing allocation should be based not on need but factors like length of residence would be catastrophic for community relations. In reality it would quite rightly be illegal to take immigration status into account in allocating housing.

The other move

Even in chess, there are good times to resign. A strong player has some social obligation to ‘go over the game’ afterwards showing where his defeated opponent went wrong. This encourages an early resignation. It’s part of the learning and maturing process for juniors, who tend to prolong the agony rather than capitulate.

So, I’m suggesting that resignation is anything but a no-brainer for Margaret Hodge. If she is right, she is under increasing threat of losing her parliamentary seat. Her own stated estimate is that 80% of white families in her constituency were tempted by the British National Party. At the recent local elections the BNP won 11 of the 13 seats it contested in Barking and Dagenham, making it the second party.

The unexpected move in the wider game would have been resignation from her ministerial duties, so that she could fight more directly for the interests of her constituents. Such actions have more credibility if the leader clearly is prepared to suffer personal damage for the wider cause.

Realistically such a move would have made more sense before she stood for the current election for deputy leadership of the Party. This is unlikely to happen. I offer it as a thought experiment of possibilities for leadership rather than as a prediction.


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