Round one to the unions, I would say, in the battle to get themselves into the cuts debate on their terms rather than those of a media itching to portray them as some dreadful throwback to the past, or a coalition that wants to portray them as living in denial about the state of the economy.
There will always be some who know they can get noticed by going over the top, but the general sense emanating from Manchester yesterday was that the TUC have something legitimate to say about what is happening in Britain, and they intend to say it in a way that speaks not only to themselves, but to a broader audience.
I was struck by this comment which appeared here yesterday, from someone called Teresa … ‘I watched the Union Leaders being interviewed on Sky and the BBC today, I found it so enpowering to listen to them, finally knowing we have people on our side. I thought they were all so calm and articulate, the exact opposite of what the press would want to see.’ I didn’t watch any of the rolling news coverage yesterday but I did pick up signs that the unions knew there was a big trap to fall into and they were determined not to do so.
If they understand that they are now in the position where the general public, not just their own members, are up for listening to what they say, they will have taken a big step forward, and one that can push the coalition backwards in public esteem and in its confidence about seeing through the more ideological of the cuts planned.
Talking of never forgetting that general audience, rather than believing you are merely speaking to those in front of you at the time, I thought it was to David Miliband’s credit that he, alone of the leadership contenders, did not commit on the spot to a rally planned for October 19.
A lot can happen between now and then, not least the fact that we will know who the new leader of the Labour Party is. Making major diary commitments in public, without any regard to what else might be going on, has never struck me as sensible time management. If David becomes leader, hopefully by October 19 he will have his own plans for taking on the coalition, and it will be up to him to decide nearer the time whether attending a rally fits in with them.
Saying ‘yes, of course I will attend’ would have been the easy answer to give, and to warm the hearts of those asking it. But just as several union leaders did well to resist the pressure for lots of gesture politics yesterday, it seems to me that so did David.