You don’t get me, I’m part of the union.”

On Monday the government will introduce in parliament the biggest crack down on the trade unions in thirty years. Len McCluskey’s Unite union is up for the challenge. The General Secretary will spend the weekend at the Trades Union Congress testing support for his call to break the law to resist the Tories plans.

The issue will be an interesting test for the new Labour leader. To support or oppose particular strikes has been one of the most difficult problems for Labour leaders for decades. Barbara Castle crossed the unions in the 1960s, Jim Callaghan’s government was brought down by them in 1979, Neil Kinnock’s discomfort over Arthur Scargill’s miners strike in 1984/5 is the stuff of legend and Ed Miliband’s refusal to take sides became a joke on You Tube.

The reason why the party, created by the unions, has agonised over the issue of union power is because it has feared losing moderate voters. It is this equivocation that has dismayed the left, and particularly the young. During the leadership election they have surged back to Labour in the expectation of more crusading policies. Their argument is that if the party fights with conviction for working people, more will join, Middle England will be overwhelmed and a socialist Labour Party will sweep to power in 2020. The battle over the Trade Union bill will be a first test.

The measure will make unlawful a strike unless 50% of those being asked to strike, vote in the ballot. 40% of those asked to vote must support the strike in key public services. The strike mandate will only last four months Unlawful picketing will become a criminal, not civil, offence. Most controversial of all is the right being given to employers to hire agency staff to break the strike. The Labour Party’s finances are set to be hit with a further provision to require union members to positively agree to pay the political levy.

The number of working days lost to strike action in the 12 months to April was 704,000, a far cry from the 13 million a year in the 70s. However there have been a number of strikes on the London Underground and in schools causing major inconvenience to parents and commuters. This has been the trigger for ministers to act. What will New Old Labour do?


I attended the excellent global soccer business conference in Manchester this week and thought I would share with you a comment by a panellist. It came during a discussion about fans’ use of new media. Facebook and YouTube had come out of left field with nobody seeing what impact they would have It was noted that some football clubs had given up trying to stop fans taking mobile phone shots of matches and embraced the clips on their websites.

Then the prediction of the next big thing, fans resistance to being the falls guys in the war between Sky and BT for TV soccer rights. As was correctly observed the poor fan now has to pay two huge monthly fees to get full match coverage. Who could stop this? Well perhaps Apple will come to the fans rescue, wipe out BT and Sky and unify the package at a cheaper price. Just a thought.




As the dust settles on Andy Murray’s great triumph, I have been wondering just how many people have been lucky enough to see England win the World Cup and a Brit win the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon.

In 1965 I made sure I applied on the first day when tickets became available and was with my Dad at Wembley for our famous win a year later.

This time I was lucky in the public ballot and went with my son Chris to see Murray’s victory.

There must be others who’ve witnessed both rare sporting events, let me know.

It’s not possible there was a ninety plus person in Centre Court on Sunday who has seen Perry,Moore and Murray is there?



Forty years ago Ted Heath told the nation there were going to be power cuts, now the spectre is raising its head again but for very different reasons.

In 1973 Heath was about to embark on his final struggle with the National Union of Mineworkers. The NUM was led by Wigan’s own Joe Gormley. This avuncular president of the miners won his battles with the Conservative government unlike his successor, Arthur Scargill, who preferred a glorious defeat.

Now it’s not picketing that threatens to plunge us into darkness but the failure of successive governments to plan our energy supplies properly.

Around 2015 we are going to face the perfect storm in terms of energy. The closure of our most “dirty” power stations will be complete to comply with our environmental obligations and our old fashioned nuclear power stations will be generating electricity for the last time. North Sea gas production has peaked.

There has been much talk about what will replace these old power sources and investments are beginning, but not soon enough. Hence the recent speculation that factories might be asked to reduce their power consumption between 4pm and 8pm on winter evenings.

Huge controversy has raged in rural parts of the North over wind farms and the government recently strengthened the powers of objectors which seemed a strange thing to do if it still has faith in renewables to come to our aid.

Wind is at the centre of a poker game being played between the industry ad government over the strike price (what the National Grid will pay). Before it invests the industry wants £100 per megawatt hour (twice the market price) for onshore wind farms and £155 for future offshore plants like the ones in the Irish Sea.

Future nuclear plants are similarly stalled although the government denies it is being held to ransom by the French company EDF Energy.

So we could be down to 2% spare capacity of generated power in three years time. A cold snap could see us reaching for the candles again.

Part of the solution is lying under our feet here in the North. After a two year freeze following the Blackpool quake, the government has taken a number of steps to restart the exploration for shale gas. This could meet most of our gas needs for 40 years. Incentives for exploration, streamlining of planning and standardisation of planning permits were all announced in June’s government infrastructure announcement. These were twinned with measures to ensure that local communities on the Fylde and in Cheshire share in the benefits. However unlike in America we only own six feet under our houses, so people in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire won’t be getting million dollar cheques like some lucky homesteaders in rural America.

The cost of blackouts in three years time would be huge to industry and business. Ministers must factor that into their hard bargaining over the strike price for power in the future.