Discreet attempts are to be made in the coming months to set up a meeting between David Cameron and some union leaders despite the barely-disguised hostility between the two sides. Many union leaders have refused even to sit in the same room as the Conservative prime minister given their historic mutual antipathy.
Yet I’m told that David Cameron is keen to open up a dialogue to prevent all-out industrial strife breaking out in the difficult years ahead.
Last year, Gordon Brown, the then-prime minister, invited the “brothers” to Chequers for a curry – although Derek Simpson, Unite joint general secretary, ate a vegetarian lasagne – in an echo of the old “beer and sandwiches” meetings between Labour prime ministers and union leaders.
A Tory source told me a similar get together between Mr Cameron and union leaders would be desirable, but the prime minister did not want to give them an excuse publicly to reject the invitation. “It all has to be done by back channels,” he said. “We don’t want to give them an easy excuse to say, ‘We’ve snubbed the prime minister’.
In opposition Cameron tried to improve strained relations with the unions by appointing Richard Balfe as his union linkman. Even that was only partially successful, with Unite refusing to even meet him. Balfe, incidentally, comes to the end of his tenure this autumn after conference season. The unions will then be dealing with Francis Maude – who is rather less sympathetic to their cause.