The old warhorses have been reined in, the generals have saddled up and like all old warriors they are ready to fight the last battle again, not the next one.
Six leading trade union leaders shared a platform at the TUC conference yesterday to rally their troops for the forthcoming election campaign, to line themselves firmly behind Gordon Brown and to tell the Labour party it had to retrench itself behind the true values of the left.
Foremost amongst these burnishing Mr Brown as a white knight, calling for him to find a voice that resonated with core Labour voters, was Derek Simpson, a battle-hardened veteran of political wars - some of them against his own side.
Mr Simpson, the Unite leader and bete noire of New Labour, is not a man given to fawning at feet of Labour Prime Ministers. It is a sign of how deep the trade union fear is of a Tory victory that he spent his lunchtime praising Gordon Brown and not burying him.
“We’re probably eight months from a Tory government and all the havoc they will wreak on our movement. Now’s the time to wake up and smell the coffee,” said Mr Simpson, addressing a half-full fringe meeting of the liaison committee for the defence of trade unions
Mr Simpson was one of the “Chequers balti set” of trade union leaders who met with the Prime Minister at his official country residence last Friday for a curry lunch.
Given the press stories about the Mr Simpson’s own £800,000 “mansion for life” in Hertfordshire he complained that he found the Chequers rooms “a little cramped”. But his advice for the Mr Brown didn’t stop at interior decoration.
“We told him we don’t just want him to be Prime Minister of a Labour government up to the next election, we want him to be Prime Minister after the next election,” said Mr Simpson, spilling details of the lunch menu.
“Change is what we need but not change of party or leader but a change of policy, attitude and approach. We want a government that is not terrified of doing something constructive, that might actually be called socialism. We want a government telling these millions of voters we’ve lost that they’re on their side, that they’re not the soft Tory option.”
He dismissed loose talk, and some serious discussion in the trade union movement, about fielding candidates against Labour ministers or withdrawing funding from the party.
“I’ll take any bet now that no one will win the next election but the Tories if Labour don’t. If you don’t want a Tory government there’s only one thing you can do and that’s get Labour in,” said Mr Simpson.
“So to hell with all this let’s not give them money, or let’s start a new party because if you do any of that you might as well just go and vote Tory.”
He did not believe the looming election to be already lost, an easy thing to convince yourself of when locked away in a war conference with like-minded people.
“Our message to Gordon is this: give us the tools, say the things that need to be said, say it like you mean them and let’s overturn that Labour disillusionment.”
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