Nasty Politics from the Nasty Party

13 September 2013

Save Our Royal Mail LogoYesterday was an amazing day media-wise for our union. But in all the debates, interviews, sound bites and speculation, there was one exchange that really brought home to me the battle we are facing.

BBC QuestionTimeThis was on BBC’s Question Time. It’s not a programme I usually watch because I find it is bad for my blood pressure! But I did catch a snippet of Labour front bench business spokesperson Chuka Umunna responding to a question from the audience on Royal Mail privatisation.

Chuka UmunnaChuka is a highly competent politician (although his apparent dis-inclination to say now that a privatised Royal Mail would not automatically be renationalised under a Labour government is clearly something that we need to debate further). He calmly and rationally explained why the business case for privatisation of Royal Mail is flawed beyond repair; how the business does not need to be in the private sector to compete for investment and how the CWU and management have worked together to deliver change.

He also highlighted that the minimum price-tag for shares of £750 would mean that this was not an opportunity for anyone but the rich and already wealthy. A further illustration of the ideologically-driven nature of this policy. Big applause from the audience.

Justine GreeningThen Justine Greening, cabinet minister, chipped in. Her response: “But you’ve got a million pound house in the (I think) Bahamas Chuka”.

Gasps from the audience.

Chuka pauses for breath, looks Ms Greening in the eye and says: “it is true my family have property Justine. But I think we should leave families out of this and concentrate on policies”. Huge cheers from the audience.

The Shadow Business Secretary clearly got the better of that exchange, and the audience recognised the ploy for what it was, but that little snippet spoke volumes to me about the nature of this debate.

First, here is a classic case of “don’t debate the facts”. Of all the things in Chuka Umunna’s response to the question, the cabinet minister didn’t engage the argument, she only tried to undermine the individual.

Second, the hypocrisy. There are possibly more millionaires in the ConDem cabinet than in any other cabinet in history. There is certainly an overwhelming number. So the very people who are best placed to maximise profit from this enterprise are attacking one of their opponents for making money an issue.

Third, the argument was not only inappropriate, it was weak. And we know the arguments in favour of this privatisation are weak. But the response suggested that the government want to press on regardless. Sectional profit above public interest and public service.

Fourth, the audience response. Overwhelmingly on the side of continued public ownership of Royal Mail.

Fifth, attitude. This was a nasty comment made in a nasty way from a nasty party that seems pre-occupied with what some have called “Crosbyisation”.

Lynton Crosby, in case you haven’t heard the name before, is a right-wing campaigns director currently working for the Conservative Party, “The master of dark political arts” as he has become known.

We will continue to debate the issues and not get distracted by personalities. We will work with the public and the millions of people who use the services our members provide, rather than against them. We will work in the national interest, not private profit. And we will not surrender our dignity and principles. We are better than that, and, I believe, we will prevail.