Old Labour strains show in recession pressure

Interesting to see how two old colleagues both Labour supporters of one kind or another, have radically different takes on the wildcat strikes in their columns. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, disillusioned with Brown since his 2007 stumbles but with nowhere else to go, makes the convincing charge against him and Mandelson of tin ear for the underlying workers’ case – namely, fear of a new and irresistible extension of the Brown policy of achieving non-inflationary growth at the cost of deflationary wages at the bottom of the pile..What he never admits about globalisation or protectionism is who wins and who loses. In the good times globalisation increased GDP and we were meant to be proud. But who was feeling good? In the last few good years official figures show that 80% of earners saw very little real extra growth, with most winners in the top 10%. Half of all earners saw no growth at all, and a third saw their real pay fall – mainly due to holding public sector pay and the minimum wage below inflation for several years.

David Aaronovitch in the Times, one of the last pro-government cheer leaders left, concentrates on getting to the bottom of union claims of undercutting British wage levels.

Yesterday another union bigwig, Paul Kenny, of the GMB, described the “root cause” of the rash of wildcat stoppages as being “discrimination against British workers”. Mr Kenny cited in evidence personal conversations with companies who had told him that they “cannot instruct these firms [ie, subcontractors] to employ British workers” because of EU law. In other words, the lack of the ability of companies to discriminate against foreign workers was really the issue for Mr Kenny, not discrimination against British ones.

The commentators’ different approaches expose what sounds precious like an old fashioned ” labour vs capital” split in top Labour ranks, as pointed out by the BBC’s Nick Robinson. With their modernisation programme to create New Labour, Blair and Brown put their shirts on closing the last chink of that old gap in the party. Ironic if the principal architect allows the gap to open all over again.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London