15 Sep 2009

Will Brown’s talk of ‘cuts’ leave unions baying for blood?

“We’re going to get a hard time off the public sector unions,” one No. 10 aide said to me. “If we don’t, we haven’t done our job.”

Relationships in the Labour movement are rarely straightforward. I’m in Liverpool for the TUC Conference and Gordon Brown’s speech.

It has taken many weeks and a mighty effort to get Gordon Brown to jettison his own instincts and to use the word “cuts.” Cuts were implicit in the government’s last Budget, Alistair Darling wanted them to be more explicit.

But Mr Brown has not wanted to acknowledge looming cuts in public. In private he started this process talking about super growth rates round the corner which would help to plug the deficit.

Then he dug in his heels refusing to use the word because it would confuse the public and detract from the message that the Tories loved cutting and were indiscriminate about it.

Now amid all the familiar euphemisms – tough choices, hard times – and a lot of “political context”, the “c” word will be uttered.

In the end Mr Brown was told he didn’t have licence to be heard as part of this economic debate until he said the dreaded word.

But will the brothers bay for his blood after the speech? Some of the mighty union barons in the hall have a puny 10 per cent of their members in the public sector and will be very unbothered by their fraternal colleagues going through a public sector squeeze.

Some with 100 per cent public sector membership will sense that their members are being lined up for a squeeze when, they’ll argue, many never knew the good times.

All part of the complicated relationships in the Labour family Mr. Brown’s about to address.

Related: Parties in phoney war before the electoral storm
Ken Clarke, Peter Mandelson and the ‘c’ word
Cameron’s cutting talk will grab headlines from the government

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