Leaders must stiffen resolve

CONSIDERING his trade-union background, it would be remarkable if Alan Johnson did not feel some sympathy with the one-day public-sector strike planned for next week. In voicing his support, however, the West Hull and Hessle MP has put himself at odds with his party leader.

Indeed, Ed Miliband is on the horns of a particularly painful dilemma. As the man who was forced to rely on the trade-union vote in order to beat his brother, David, to the Labour leadership, Mr Miliband feels an instinctive duty to support the strikers. However, he knows that, if Labour is to return to power, he cannot afford to alienate the vast majority of voters who will be seriously inconvenienced by next week’s strike.

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Equally, Mr Miliband knows that, with pensions being the key issue of dispute, the wider public support on which the strikers depend cannot last for long. Considering that, even after the proposed changes, public-sector workers will still have a far cushier pensions deal than most of their private-sector counterparts, sympathy for the unions will soon be exhausted, particularly if they call further strikes.

But if the strike is a test of the Labour leader’s nerve, there is an even greater onus on the Government to stiffen its resolve and hold firm. Having already made a more than generous offer in an attempt to settle the dispute, it is crucial that no more favours are extended.

The fact that the Government has stuck determinedly to its deficit-reduction strategy is the only reason Britain has so far escaped the financial chaos engulfing the Continent. However, with the full effect of the cuts still to bite, any weakening now – for example, in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement due the day before the strike – would only open the gates to further waves of industrial action. It is not only the Labour leader’s credibility that is at stake.