A Question of Time?

Watching the BBC’s Question Time last Thursday (June 23rd) – like many people, overriding a previous abstinence to see the RMT’s Mick Lynch in full flow – I found that the episode was indeed a cracker, and one I recommend people go back and watch, for in it, I felt there were some stark observations to be made.

Firstly, we had host Fiona Bruce’s impersonation of a Tory Government Minister when, in the absence of constructed thoughts, words or sentences from the actual Tory Minister present, she took it upon herself to act as the Tory mouthpiece. (I think most of us would prefer it if she stuck to her day job).

Secondly, we had the actual Tory Minister (Rachel Maclean MP) trying to impersonate a magician when she pulled a statement from Network Rail from out of her hat in an attempt to somehow corner Mick Lynch, only to find that the trick didn’t work and her facial contortions throughout the show left her looking more like a clown than a magician.

And thirdly, we had the assorted audience which, in seemingly large parts, resembled the living embodiment of Daily Mail headlines: ‘Boo when you hear nationalisation’, ‘cheer for throwing people on the dole via compulsory redundancies’.

What stood out amongst this mad circus though, was the fact that the younger audience members seemed more on the side of Lynch and the trade union movement. Whilst met with ‘tsks’ and condescending utterances from the Tory Minister and members of the audience, the young people represent a definite shift in attitudes and experiences. Rather than be held back by the baggage and assumptions of the past, younger workers have grown up in a country of austerity, instability and decline. A country in which certainties about housing and decent employment are no longer certain and in which they are subject to the vicious desires of the market.

It is no wonder then, that the concept of guaranteed working hours, pay in line with inflation, collective bargaining of workers and firms rather than unilateral diktats of Tory Ministers and millionaires, are more attractive to a younger generation than the confused muddle of resurrected Thatcherites surrounding them – who have been fed and nurtured on a diet of right-wing media narratives that have had a hold on this country for decades, shaping the narrative in favour of exploitation, division and the interests of the super-rich.

Therefore, it is doubly disappointing to see recent statements and manoeuvres from Labour’s frontbench team who are back-peddling on their support for working people in this time of crisis by a reported ban on standing on picket lines – directly contradicting the previous actions and sentiments of many of these frontbenchers.

Of course, Labour has a difficult job in treading the path between ambitious aims to help change society, and not being too risky to frighten the middle ground. However, there comes a time when the ground begins to shift, and the old laws begin to fade away.

For younger people watching Question Time last Thursday, the dinosaurs in the room appeared more to be the grey-haired, summer-shirted Thatcherites than it did the calm and composed trade union leader. Labour must therefore watch its step because change is round the corner. It is only a question of time.