Today’s PMQs featured long-overdue but positive announcements on Zimbabwe, before somewhat more tired rhetoric on public pay and the unions. Cameron challenged the PM to define exactly what actions the Government was taking to oppose Mugabe’s leadership. Sanctions on individuals associated with Mugabe and work to ban the Zimbabwe cricket team competing in Britain were promised. Brown made plain that Mugabe should no longer be at the crease he had lost an election and his violent refusal to walk would not be tolerated. The PM clearly relished the opportunity to announce action on Zimbabwe and appears to have a genuine and personal loathing of the Mugabe leadership that has real resonance with public sentiment.
The second round of questions saw David Cameron ignite the exchange and rouse the ideologues with a divisive probe on trade unions. Cameron spoke of the wave of potential strikes threatened by officials across the land and called for categorical confirmation that no legislative changes would be made by the Government to laws affecting trade union activity. Cameron went on to make the underlying political point more explicit. He announced the end of New Labour, claiming that the unions would get their way as a bankrupt Labour party assuages its major sources of revenue œNew Labour is dead and buried, cried the Tory Leader. Brown remained composed, pointing neatly to Cameron’s own array of contradictory statements on public sector pay deals. Once again, Brown accused the Tory leader of lacking in substance, as the quality of the closing exchanges remained light in vision or solutions.
I doubt the millions of public sector works would have taken much comfort or inspiration from this debate. Do we really believe that the tight and clunking fist is now couched in the pocket of ‘The Unions’? The allegation is probably about as well-founded and as powerful as the notion that Dave is simply the friendly-face of œOld Toryism. However, given the financial worries facing many voters, Cameron’s timely jibe conjures up disturbing images of union power and chaos under œold Labour.
We are not going to see a ‘Summer of Discontent’ to compete with the troubles of 1978-9, but the imagery further erodes confidence in this Labour government’s ability to cope with the downturn we all fear.