Pension strike: MPs battle it out as rhetoric hots up

Strike on pensions and cuts Workers strike in June 2011 against planned government cuts to the public sector and pensions

It was always inevitable. With the prospect of the biggest public sector strike in generations, the political rhetoric is getting hot. Really hot.

I felt the heat when interviewing the Prime Minister.

He was visiting the Toyota factory near Derby hoping for an upbeat message on job creation.

Instead, David Cameron had to change gear and answer questions on the threatened strike.

Blame game

The headlines are increasingly dominated by Wednesday's stoppage... and who's to blame.

The unions are unhappy over big changes to public sector pensions. The government insists an ageing population makes increased contributions from staff a must.

Labour accuse the Tories of union bashing. The coalition question the low turn-out in union ballots that are the legal cover for the walk-outs.

David Cameron told me, in no uncertain terms, where he believes the blame lies.

"That responsibility lies clearly with the trade union leaders, who've decided on this action while negotiations are still going on.

"I think it is irresponsible and wrong. People should know who to blame."

Start Quote

This strike is completely the wrong thing to do”

End Quote Heather Wheeler Conservative MP

The TUC were furious, claiming those remarks would only enflame the situation.

That's given the cue to MPs in the TV studios.

Take Heather Wheeler for example. She's the MP for South Derbyshire and accompanied the Prime Minister as he toured the Toyota production line.

She was certainly revved up when debating the strike with Labour's Chris Williamson on BBC TV's Politics Show in the East Midlands.

"This strike is completely the wrong thing to do," she told him.

"There has to be complete realism about what the country can afford. Low paid public sector workers will not lose out from the pension proposals. I just wish Labour MPs would dial that up to union bosses."

Start Quote

The government's attitude in this dispute is totally shameful”

End Quote Chris Williamson Labour MP

Before becoming an MP, she was the leader of her local council in South Derbyshire.

That local government background is something she shares with Chris Williamson, who used to run Derby City Council.

They both fully appreciate the impact of Wednesday's strike on vital local council services.

"The government's attitude in this dispute is totally shameful," he said.

The Derby North Labour MP was particularly critical of David Cameron.

"It's absolutely shameful that public sector workers have been singled out for such harsh treatment. There's no justification for it.

"He's even managed to force normally moderate union members into taking action," he added.

Trench warfare

What struck me was how attitudes have hardened in a matter of days.

Before the PM's union blast on that visit to Toyota, I had interviewed Nottingham East Labour MP, Chris Leslie, and Erewash Tory Jessica Lee about the issue.

Strike in June 2011 All parties appreciate the impact of Wednesday's strike on vital council services

There was almost a hint of consensus: pensions needed reform. The public sector needed to embrace that change. It was important for both sides to continue to negotiate.

Now the political battle lines seem to be heading for trench warfare.

The party arguments have got tribal again and the rhetoric leaves little room for the middle ground…let alone agreement.

But in any dispute, it takes two to tango.

In this political game of poker, who will blink first?

John Hess Article written by John Hess John Hess Political editor, East Midlands

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  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    If the government fail to curb the public sector what are the chances that we in the private sector will have our pensions upped to match theirs? People like me have to rely on pension credit!
    The only reason they can mount such a show of strength is because they are all in the one scheme. In the private sector we don't have that muscle as we are all in separate company schemes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    To all the people in the private sector I'd say this: who is it that buys your goods and services? How many of your customers work in the public sector? And how many of your customers work in the private sector where there business is on the edge of going under? This government seems hell bent on sending the whole of the economy into a death spiral, in both short and long term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    The country cannot afford to pay for future pensions, public or state we simply don't have enough people working and paying taxes to pay for them. As health improves and individuals draw pensions for longer the costs go up that's simple. For those striking today you are not losing anything, your rights accrued to date are protected under law, it is the future which is up for negotiation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I would like a very clear, unambiguous statement from David Cameron that, despite MPs pensions being under IPSA, the changes in terms, conditions and benefits will be identical to the changes being asked of other public sector workers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Union devotees should get out there and experience the private sector and get a rounded view free of union dogma. Talk of capricious 'bosses' and downtrodden 'workers' is simply not true in 99% of cases. We've all got to do our bit and work longer. I have experience of working in both sectors. The Public Sector is heavily tilted to the 'worker'. Strikes are indulgent in the extreme. Coffee?


Comments 5 of 17



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