Opinion by Stefan Stern

Stefan Stern: meet Red Gordon

So: the media pack tells us that Gordon Brown 'fell flat' in Brighton. Yes and no. Sure, there was no standing ovation. But the TUC doesn't go in for that sort of thing.

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Compared to the sort of genuinely chilly responses Brown's predecessor used to get, some of the applause was quite striking. And Brown made some statements that could simply never have been spoken by Blair - for example: 'The price of a job should never be a substandard wage or a dangerous workplace.' That went down well, surprisingly enough.
Nor should employers breathe a sigh of relief and believe that if the unions didn't like it then the speech must have been okay. The PM warned that anyone trying to avoid paying the minimum wage would soon face higher penalties. And where there is inadequate action on skills the government is considering compulsion.
So no, not an Oscar-winning performance, but nor was Brown exactly booed off. It was a controlled, prime-minsterial address. Just don't believe everything you read in the newspapers. 


History will be made today, Monday September 10th 2007. For the first time in nearly 30 years, the TUC’s annual congress will be addressed by a sitting Labour prime minister.

OK - I’m joking. Technically, Tony Blair was Labour, but you know what I’m getting at. (It was said that when the result of the by-election in Sedgefield, County Durham, was announced a few weeks ago - the by-election brought about by Blair’s stepping down as an MP - the result was described as a 'Labour gain' by some wags in the party.)

No, today we get to see 'Red Gordon' do his stuff, as opposed to the 'Iron Gordon' of whom we have seen more in recent months (and now, even 'Maggie-worshipping Gordon', who introduced himself to a stunned world last week).

Today Gordon Brown will continue his so far rather extraordinary and unexpectedly successful attempt to reintroduce himself to the country. But for the first time he will be doing so in front of a large, important, and avowedly left-wing audience.

MT readers who work in the private sector may well have very limited dealings with trade unions these days. Their only recent experience of trade unionism will have come last week, when they attempted to use the strike-hit London Underground. Where unions survive in the private sector, they have had to embrace harsh reality to retain any relevance or influence at all.

But unions, in the public sector especially, still matter enormously. Over seven million trade union members are affiliated to the TUC. If the PM wants his public sector reforms to work, he will need the co-operation of trade union members.

The prime minister’s balancing act in Brighton should be fascinating to watch, and will reward close study. What sort of promises, if any, will he offer the unions? Is a general election coming soon, in which case how much money will he be seeking from them to fund Labour’s campaign? Or will Gordon Brown continue to delight the Sun and the Daily Mail by talking tough as far as the economy and the unions’ role in it are concerned?

All great conference speeches are highly theatrical events. I can’t wait to get down there this morning to see it for myself.

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