Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Fire strikes not political"

When Andy Gilchrist said what all Fire Brigades Union members were thinking - that it was time to replace new Labour with real Labour - you would have thought he had called for the storming of 10 Downing Street.

Gilchrist was attacked by the government and the media for making the strike political - shock horror. The dispute became political the moment that John Prescott couldn't be bothered to get out of bed to look at the agreement struck in the early-morning hours two weeks ago. If it wasn't political, how is it that political correspondents have covered the dispute? How is it that the government line has been reported faithfully by Andrew Marr, the BBC political editor, from Downing Street every day?

The barrage of spin directed against the firefighters was even worse than what is dished out at election time. There is no Tory opposition, so the firefighters became Tories. Goebbels would have been proud of the propaganda and lies that Nick Raynsford, the local government minister, was pouring out. A compliant anti-union press (except the Daily Mirror) was ready to print all the government lies, so is it any wonder that the FBU decided to change tactics? Gilchrist has come under fire for being a poor leader, but a good general knows when to make a tactical retreat.

This has been the most political dispute since the miners' strike . But this time the unions won't take it lying down. War has been declared by Tony Blair and Gilchrist was right - the war will be between those who want to destroy the unions and merge with the Liberals and those who want to see a real Labour government.

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