Tony Blair's response to his government's bungling of the firefighters' dispute was typical new Labour. He called a press conference. Even the Speaker couldn't stomach this and made Blair go to the House of Commons to explain himself.
Whatever you think about Blair, he is a very good performer in front of the camera, and could easily have become an actor instead of a politician. For a few seconds, even I began to believe what he was saying. The performance has been spun as appealing "over the heads" of the FBU leadership. Blair can't bring himself to admit that Andy Gilchrist actually represents the firefighters because that would mean admitting just how out of touch he is with working people.
The Prime Minister's problem, however, is that because he is acting, he litters his performance with inaccuracies. He claimed that the firefighters went on strike in 1977 to win a pay formula - which they didn't. A small misreading of ancient history, you may think, but when you hear his explanation of the breakdown in the talks (when John Prescott couldn't be bothered to get out of bed), you realise that Blair is a serial liar.
It was his government that decided to allow the employers to offer 16 per cent, which is what they did. The idea that this came as a big surprise to the government is palpable nonsense. The fact is that 16 per cent is what will settle this dispute, and 16 per cent is what the firefighters will eventually get, however it is dressed up.
Blair may say the firefighters can't win, but, in most trade unionists' eyes, they already have. They have run rings round this arrogant government and have won the support of the British people. It's Blair who can't win, and he knows it.