UK Politics

TUC chief Brendan Barber attacks PM's riot response

  • 12 September 2011
  • From the section UK Politics
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David Cameron's response to the riots that swept through some English cities last month was "profoundly wrong", TUC chief Brendan Barber has said.

He accused the PM of "reaching for simplistic cliches about moral decay", rather than tackling underlying causes.

In a speech to the TUC conference he also called for an alternative to the coalition's economic policies, based on fair tax, bank reform and growth.

Coalition spending cuts are set to dominate the three-day gathering.

In his opening address to delegates, Mr Barber said the government risked plunging the economy into a recession worse than the one sparked by the financial crisis of 2008 if it failed to change economic course.

'Deep fractures'

He vowed to fight the government's "outrageous" plans for public service pensions and called for "real reform" of the financial system, in the wake of the Vickers Report on breaking up the banks.

But he also sought to link cuts in government spending and the government's deficit reduction plan to the riots - something Ed Miliband and most other senior Labour figures have stopped short of doing.

"The prime minister chose to describe these events as 'criminality pure and simple' - but it isn't so simple and what happened in August actually revealed deep fractures within our society," said Mr Barber.

"A society that ranks among the most unequal anywhere in the developed world; where a super rich elite have been allowed to float free from the rest of us; where a generation of young people are growing up without work, without prospects, without hope."

He said the government's response to the riots had been "profoundly wrong".

"Rather than addressing the complex long-term factors that lie behind the alienation - the poverty, the lack of social mobility, young lives stunted by hope denied - they have instead reached for simplistic cliches about moral decay.

"And yet as they have retreated to Victorian language about the undeserving poor, they have said nothing about moral disintegration among the rich."

He said the disorder "underlined the folly of coalition policy" such as withdrawing Educational Maintenance Allowance to "disadvantaged teenagers", cutting youth service funding and abolishing Labour's Future Jobs Fund.

"Of course I accept the riots were not caused by the cuts - but as any fair-minded person must see the cuts will undoubtedly make the underlying problems much worse," he told delegates.

'Cruel'

Mr Barber, who was speaking at Congress House, the TUC's headquarters, said he did not want to see a further wave of strikes but there was a "strong risk" of that happening unless there was a breakthrough in talks over proposed increases to public sector workers' pension contributions.

Teachers and civil servants went on strike in June over the government's public sector pension reforms and further industrial action has been planned for November.

Mr Barber said the government had "set the cruel and mistaken objective of getting rid of the deficit in just four years" - and he called for a "movement for the alternative" based on fair tax and growth.

Len McCluskey, leader of Britain's biggest union Unite, gave a speech telling ministers that workers would resist attacks on jobs, pay and pensions.

No government ministers are speaking at the congress.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said the calls for industrial action were "disappointing" while talks with the unions on pensions are ongoing.

Asked about Mr Barber's criticism of government cuts, she said ministers recognised that times are tough but the government had to deal with the deficit and get public spending under control to get the economy back on track.

She said talks with the unions on pensions are progressing well, adding: "We are sitting round the table talking about difficult issues and we want to make sure that public sector pensions are generous but affordable."

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has been criticised by union bosses for his decision not to back strikes by public sector workers while talks with ministers are ongoing, is due to address the TUC conference on Tuesday.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls refused to be drawn on whether Labour would back a fresh round of strikes in the autumn, but said he believed the TUC had acted "in a very responsible way" over the pensions talks despite "inflammatory statements" by government ministers.

"I hope the government will avoid the confrontation which I fear they are seeking," he told the BBC News Channel.

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