Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Firefighters losing public support"

At the beginning of the firefighters' strike of 1977, the media were even more hostile than this time round. But it soon became apparent that the public supported the firefighters and not the government. The media were forced to change because they wanted to be in touch with their readers.

Only Piers Morgan at the Mirror realised early on that readers were sympathetic to the Fire Brigades Union, even if they thought a 40 per cent pay rise excessive. The Sun, on the other hand, has completely misjudged the mood of the country. Morgan couldn't have written the script better; the nation saw TV pictures of firefighters burning copies of the Sun on the picket line.

All weekend, the newspapers and the broadcasters told us that the FBU was losing support. We now know, thanks to a Guardian poll, that this was just a feeble justification for their hostility: support for the firefighters has actually risen. The Guardian itself seems to have lost the plot, and its leader writers have delivered lectures about restraint. Given that most Guardian readers work in the public sector, this is probably a bigger misjudgement than the Sun's.

Some commentators have been so bemused by the union's success that they wrongly reported that I am helping it out. Can't they see that workers need no help from spin-doctors to put a good case?

It's not surprising that the media have got this dispute so wrong: no newspaper nowadays has a dedicated labour correspondent.

Even BBC TV has had to rely on one of its business correspondents. He probably thought that FBU stands for "finance bank utility".

This article first appeared in the 25 November 2002 issue of the New Statesman, World at war