Bob Crow protests against the government's spending cuts at a rally in Bedford Square in London on October 23, 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.
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RMT leader Bob Crow dies at 52

The union confirms that its general secretary "sadly passed away in the early hours of this morning."

The RMT has confirmed reports that Bob Crow has died at the age of just 52.

In a statement on its website, it said: "It is with the deepest regret that RMT has to confirm that our General Secretary Bob Crow sadly passed away in the early hours of this morning.

"The union's offices will be closed for the rest of the day and the union will make further announcements in due course. The media have been asked to respect the privacy of Bob’s friends and family at this difficult and distressing time."
 
I'm sure that Crow would appreciate the irony of those who tormented him for the offence of taking a holiday (and for much else) now mourning his passing. His final interview was given yesterday to Radio 4's PM in which he made the case for an increase in MPs' pay.
 
Here are some reactions from politicians and union leaders.
 
Boris Johnson

I’m shocked. Bob Crow was a fighter and a man of character.

Whatever our political differences, and there were many, this is tragic news.

Bob fought tirelessly for his beliefs and for his members.

There can be absolutely no doubt that he played a big part in the success of the Tube, and he shared my goal to make transport in London an even greater success.

It’s a sad day.

Ken Livingstone 

I assumed he would be at my funeral not me at his.

He fought really hard for his members. The only working-class people who still have well-paid jobs in London are his members.”

With the passage of time people will come to see that people like Bob Crow did a very good job.

Ed Miliband

Bob Crow was a major figure in the labour movement and was loved and deeply respected by his members.

I didn’t always agree with him politically but I always respected his tireless commitment to fighting for the men and women in his union. He did what he was elected to do, was not afraid of controversy and was always out supporting his members across the country.

He was a passionate defender of and campaigner for safe, affordable public transport and was a lifelong anti-fascist activist.

My thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues in the RMT and wider union movement at this difficult time.

Frances O'Grady

This is shocking news. Bob was an outstanding trade unionist, who tirelessly fought for his members, his industry and the wider trade union movement.

He was always a good friend and comrade to me. We will miss him, and our thoughts are with his family and the RMT at this difficult time.

Manuel Cortes, TSSA rail union leader

Bob Crow was admired by his members and feared by employers, which is exactly how he liked it.

It was a privilege to campaign and fight alongside him because he never gave an inch.

Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary

The loss for members of the RMT is immeasurable. They have lost their champion. The loss to the trade union movement and to the cause of advancing the living standards of working people across the globe is devastating.

Even people who didn’t like what he did agreed he did it very well. Our thoughts are with Bob’s family and the RMT.

Bob’s strength, personal integrity and straight forward speaking won many battles for his members. He took his job very seriously and never stopped working. A giant of the labour movement. He is irreplaceable.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder