Michael Gove by Dan Murrell
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Commons Confidential: Red Mike runs from his past

Meanwhile the Beeb is under fire for alleged pro-Farage bias in election reporting.  

Wailing is audible in No 10 after Vince Cable limped home from China, the Business Secretary having suffered severe collateral damage in his friend Matthew Oakeshott’s suicide bombing. My Downing Street snout whispered that the Conservative machine was banking on Cable replacing David Cameron’s playmate Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Cable is disliked by Cameron and hated by George Osborne, the Tory pair complaining that the Labour-leaning Vince isn’t a coalition team player. Yet both willed him to get the top job. The Cons calculated that Cable – a former member of the Labour Party, adviser to John Smith and contributor to the 1975 Red Paper on Scotland, edited by Gordon Brown – is the Lib Dem best placed to win back Yellow Peril votes from Labour. The No 10 plot to revive the Lib Dems as a Ukip of the left was another victim of Oakeshott’s secret polling.

 

The BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, has, I hear, lost his sense of humour over complaints (1,200 and counting) that Auntie’s coverage of the council and European election results was biased in favour of Nigel Farage. The leader of the Purple Shirts did appear to chalk up the Beeb as a Ukip gain and it was a curious local authority “earthquake” when the party’s share of the vote fell 6 points on the previous May to 17 per cent.

Robbo is an old pro and bridles at accusations that he isn’t objective, especially when lefties resurrect his national chairmanship of the Young Conservatives in Thatcher’s heyday. He took umbrage at a Martin Rowson cartoon in the Guardian of him calling the Ukrainian elections for Ukip despite Farage winning no votes. Rowson was disappointed that the BBC man’s email wasn’t a request to buy the original. 

 

Michael Gove is citing a prior engagement to avoid revisiting the scene of his unruly “Red Mike” union militancy. The Tory Education Secretary is unlikely, I was informed, to attend the 25th-anniversary strike reunion of journalists on Aberdeen’s Press and Journal in October. During the dispute, Red Mike was, as this column has disclosed, bundled into the back of a police van after throwing a traffic cone from a viaduct on to Union Street, the Granite City’s main thoroughfare. Oh, the irony that, in his current incarnation, he lectures teachers on how to behave in classrooms.

 

A visitor to the Victoria Street lair of the business minister Michael Fallon was surprised to see a poster of Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady. Fallon is a Thatcherite and the film charted Maggie’s struggle with dementia and the powerlessness of physical frailty. My snout wondered if Fallon had actually seen the film.

 

Congratulations to Joe Dromey, son of Jack and Harriet Harman. Elected a Labour councillor in Lewisham, Dromey Jr went straight into the cabinet. Which is more than his MP dad did.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 04 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 100 days to save Great Britain

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Junior doctors’ strikes: the greatest union failure in a generation

The first wave of junior doctor contract impositions began this week. Here’s how the BMA union failed junior doctors.

In Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the author ridicules the notion of work as a virtuous end per se:

“And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order.”

Tressell’s characters are subdued and eroded by the daily disgraces of working life; casualised labour, poor working conditions, debt and poverty.

Although the Junior Doctors’ dispute is a far cry from the Edwardian working-poor, the eruption of fervour from Junior Doctors during the dispute channelled similar overtones of dire working standards, systemic abuse, and a spiralling accrual of discontent at the notion of “noble” work as a reward in itself. 

While the days of union activity precipitating governmental collapse are long over, the BMA (British Medical Association) mandate for industrial action occurred in a favourable context that the trade union movement has not witnessed in decades. 

Not only did members vote overwhelmingly for industrial action with the confidence of a wider public, but as a representative of an ostensibly middle-class profession with an irreplaceable skillset, the BMA had the necessary cultural capital to make its case regularly in media print and TV – a privilege routinely denied to almost all other striking workers.

Even the Labour party, which displays parliamentary reluctance in supporting outright strike action, had key members of the leadership join protests in a spectacle inconceivable just a few years earlier under the leadership of “Red Ed”.

Despite these advantageous circumstances, the first wave of contract impositions began this week. The great failures of the BMA are entirely self-inflicted: its deference to conservative narratives, an overestimation of its own method, and woeful ignorance of the difference between a trade dispute and moralising conundrums.

These right-wing discourses have assumed various metamorphoses, but at their core rest charges of immorality and betrayal – to themselves, to the profession, and ultimately to the country. These narratives have been successfully deployed since as far back as the First World War to delegitimise strikes as immoral and “un-British” – something that has remarkably haunted mainstream left-wing and union politics for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, the BMA has inherited this doubt and suspicion. Tellingly, a direct missive from the state machinery that the BMA was “trying to topple the government” helped reinforce the same historic fears of betrayal and unpatriotic behaviour that somehow crossed a sentient threshold.

Often this led to abstract and cynical theorising such as whether doctors would return to work in the face of fantastical terrorist attacks, distracting the BMA from the trade dispute at hand.

In time, with much complicity from the BMA, direct action is slowly substituted for direct inaction with no real purpose and focus ever-shifting from the contract. The health service is superficially lamented as under-resourced and underfunded, yes, but certainly no serious plan or comment on how political factors and ideologies have contributed to its present condition.

There is little to be said by the BMA for how responsibility for welfare provision lay with government rather than individual doctors; virtually nothing on the role of austerity policies; and total silence on how neoliberal policies act as a system of corporate welfare, eliciting government action when in the direct interests of corporatism.

In place of safeguards demanded by the grassroots, there are instead vague quick-fixes. Indeed, there can be no protections for whistleblowers without recourse to definable and tested legal safeguards. There are limited incentives for compliance by employers because of atomised union representation and there can be no exposure of a failing system when workers are treated as passive objects requiring ever-greater regulation.

In many ways, the BMA exists as the archetypal “union for a union’s sake”, whose material and functional interest is largely self-intuitive. The preservation of the union as an entity is an end in itself.

Addressing conflict in a manner consistent with corporate and business frameworks, there remains at all times overarching emphasis on stability (“the BMA is the only union for doctors”), controlled compromise (“this is the best deal we can get”) and appeasement to “greater” interests (“think of the patients”). These are reiterated even when diametrically opposed to its own members or irrelevant to the trade dispute.

With great chutzpah, the BMA often moves from one impasse to the next, framing defeats as somehow in the interests of the membership. Channels of communication between hierarchy and members remain opaque, allowing decisions such as revocation of the democratic mandate for industrial action to be made with frightening informality.

Pointedly, although the BMA often appears to be doing nothing, the hierarchy is in fact continually defining the scope of choice available to members – silence equals facilitation and de facto acceptance of imposition. You don’t get a sense of cumulative unionism ready to inspire its members towards a swift and decisive victory.

The BMA has woefully wasted the potential for direct action. It has encouraged a passive and pessimistic malaise among its remaining membership and presided over the most spectacular failure of union representation in a generation.

Ahmed Wakas Khan is a junior doctor, freelance journalist and editorials lead at The Platform. He tweets @SireAhmed.