Trade union threats show the contours of the great post-Covid political battles to come

Most of the workers that Ms O’Grady represents are at home on full pay. She cannot speak for the millions whose livelihoods may depend on the lockdown ending Credit: Andrew Matthews/ PA

Real life may not be back to normal538prom精品视频在线播放 for a while yet but politics is getting there fast. You may have noticed the noises of discord – a sound so unfamiliar in the resounding national consensus that it may have been difficult to recognise. Mostly, the proclamations from interested parties have been astutely circumscribed: this is not, everybody seems to agree, the time for vitriol.

538prom精品视频在线播放Even the well-founded criticisms of Government misjudgment are carefully framed in tones that do not, on the face of it, sound self-serving. But here they are, those familiar players who have begun to see themselves sidelined by a Government whose success at winning popular support has been so overwhelming that it threatens to make everyone else irrelevant.

The most stridently conspicuous voice has been Nicola Sturgeon’s. She began making it clear early on that she wasn’t going to follow any instructions from the Sassenach outfit in Westminster, or even be bound by the diplomatic niceties of joint decisions. If there was a collective agreement on strategy, she would get in first and pre-empt the announcement.

If Westminister said firmly that the lockdown could not yet be relaxed, she would say that we need a “grown up conversation” with the public before we could decide that. Now that Downing Street is talking of steps to ease the lockdown, she insists adamantly that Scotland will not do the same – until its very own leader (her) decides that the time is right.

538prom精品视频在线播放This is all noise, of course. It would be political suicide for the Scottish Nationalist government to apply much more severe limits on personal freedom to its own proud population than prevailed in England. What would be done to stop floods of refugees pouring across the border from imprisoned Scotland to the liberated south – especially if the pubs on the other side were open? Would there be checkpoints like the ones that stopped East Germans from fleeing to freedom in West Berlin? This is just politics as we have always known it: the first contact sport to return without a live audience.

As with the SNP, so with the trade unions who used to have quite a lot of influence, you may recall, about who went to work and under what conditions. Well here they are again. Not aggressively threatening in the way they were back in the day when strike ballots needed only a hands-up vote in the car park, and not explicitly anti-capitalist as they would have been under Corbynite leadership but just insistently marking their place on the board.

While the country awaits real news on whether it is going to be able to return to a life worth living, there is Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, enunciating, in what sound like impeccably apolitical tones, the demands of the workforce to be included in the decisions. “So far, unions are worried by the draft guidelines they have seen…” she wrote last week – before any guidelines had even been publicly announced. In other words: “Don’t even think about changing anything without getting our permission.”

T538prom精品视频在线播放his was framed in the most benign possible terms: the safety of workers and their families must be protected at all costs (and, by implication, we are the only agency that can ensure that protection).

538prom精品视频在线播放Announcing this sort-of-threat not to accept any new regulations without prior consultation serves several purposes.

First, it appears to weaken the Government’s authority by suggesting that they will simply be unable to take any action without the consent of the TUC. Then it suggests that, left to its own devices, the (Tory) Government would show a callous disregard for workers (and their families) in their eagerness to revive the economy. And, more subtly, it implies that any proposal to allow economic recovery is necessarily a ruthless employers’ plot which will expose workers to unnecessary danger.

Trade union membership is now largely confined to the public (or quasi-public) sector. So most of the workers that Ms O’Grady represents are, at the moment, at home on full pay. She does not – and cannot – speak for the millions who are in a less fortunate position538prom精品视频在线播放 and whose livelihoods may depend on the return to full functioning of those services whose return she is proposing to obstruct.

The teaching unions, for example538prom精品视频在线播放, are particularly insistent on being given guarantees that their members will be exposed to no risk at all should they return to work. A poll commissioned by the National Association of Headteachers last week showed that only 10 per cent of school leaders felt confident that it would be safe to open their schools to more pupils in coming weeks and only 5 per cent of those leaders believed that their staff would be confident that it was safe to do so.

For all intents and purposes, this is a demand for absolute safety which is a logically impossible requirement to meet. It is designed to be unattainable as it stands: its purpose is not to put forward a reasonable option in the Government’s future planning but to stake out the ground on which this political lobby will make its stand. It is the unions’ way of saying: don’t forget that we’re still here.

You – the Johnson Government – may think you’ve got the country eating out of your hand. For the moment, people have a childlike trust in every word you say – to such an extent that they are now terrified of emerging from their domestic fortresses. But we can play the scare game too. Just try forcing us back to work without paying deference to our historic power and see what happens.

Someday soon real political battles will resume – inside Parliament and out. The Government will have to cope with the economic wreckage that its decisions – perhaps unavoidably – produced. They will face a plausible Opposition party and a population that may begin to wonder whether it was as wisely led as it believed it had been. Most of the jockeying professional players who are talking blather now are just getting into position for a post-pandemic world and the bigger game that is to come.