As last minute talks failed and the Royal Mail walkout began, business secretary Lord Mandelson was being heavily criticised for his role in the proceedings. It’s not often we feel sorry for the Dark Lord, but since he seems to be getting blamed for taking both too much and too little interest in the affair, depending on who you listen to, we can’t help but sympathise with him today.
The CWU has accused Mandelson of colluding with RM’s marketing director Mark Higson and chief executive Adam Crozier, saying that the terrible trio purposefully blocked reconciliation in order to force a showdown. CWU deputy Dave Ward claimed that Mandelson was taking his revenge for the shelving of his part-privatisation bill in July.
While we wouldn’t put it past Mandelson to be nursing a grudge over the way the bill - a pet project of his - went, he is also plenty smart enough to realise that prolonged unrest will only damage the prospects for any eventual sale of Royal Mail. For privatised, in one form or another, it almost certainly will be in the end. The days when there was any political will, let alone financial wherewithal, to fully re-nationalise are well and truly over.
The message from the CWU to Mandelson seems to be that he should clear out of issues that don’t concern him. But confusingly, the union also claimed that their message to both Mandelson and RM management was to ‘get your hands dirty’, and urged them to meet with Acas. You can’t have it both ways, chaps.
But Mandelson – who earlier this year claimed to be ‘unashamedly Heseltinian’ (a reference to Lord H’s famous 90s intent to intervene on behalf of British industry ‘before breakfast, dinner and tea') – seems to have decided to sit this one out, in public at least. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, as strikes begin and both customers and public opinion desert Royal Mail, our political masters are increasingly washing their hands of it too.
Perhaps they are right to; now things have got this bad, it may be that an all-out stand-off between management and employees is the only way to progress. But there’s a real chance that the cure will kill the patient even more quickly than the disease would have done.
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