Ed Balls channelled the bad cop with the trade unions this morning, warning conference that ‘there will be difficult decisions in the future from which we will not flinch.’ This afternoon, Chuka Umunna was sent out to play the alternative good cop. The shadow business secretary spoke at a Unite fringe event this lunchtime, repeating his well-mocked line that the unions are ‘wealth-creators’:
‘I am totally unapologetic to say that trade unions like this one are wealth creators. We need to celebrate unions like Unite.’
In return for this new-found good will, the Unite leader Len McCluskey praised Umunna’s speech as ‘first class’, stating he had ‘never heard a front bencher mention unions so many times in one speech’. Despite Ed Balls’ hard line on public spending, the Unite leader praised the shadow’ speech as a ‘really really good one’ and welcomed his connection to the ‘spirit of ‘45’.
Despite marketing the event as ‘Strategies for growth: defeating austerity’, the only strategy offered by the panel was a vague suggestion of cutting VAT. The rest of the event was devoted to attacking at the government’s economic strategy, which highlighted another blank piece of Labour paper. Umunna took particular aim at the government’s Enterprise Bill, which he described as pushing ‘discrimination’ through the back door:
‘Everyone has to put pressure of them…we will be voting against the bill tooth and nail. The people who stand to lose the most from unfair dismissal are the ones who are not members of trade unions’
But again, McCluskey has little to say on an alternative plan, besides urging the assembled to get out and fight — including taking up civil disobedience — against the cuts. He likened the government’s economic approach to ‘slitting your wrists..dying quickly or dying slowly’. McCluskey also branded David Cameron and George Osborne the ‘children of the Thatcher era, which is all they understand’. Until he can offer a viable alternative, it is unclear what McCluskey himself understands.Tags: Chuka Umanna, Labour, Labour conference 2012, Len McCluskey, UK politics, Unite