I revealed back in August that David Cameron wanted to invite Britain’s union leaders for a meeting, a surprising overture given the hostility between the two sides. The process has been complicated by the fact that the prime minister – unsurprisingly – did not want to give the brothers an excuse to publically snub him.
Yet the meeting has been scheduled for tomorrow. Patrick Hennessy at the Sunday Telegraph revealed this morning that a delegation of unnamed TUC officials is poised to go into Downing Street to meet Mr Cameron.
The TUC won’t confirm who is attending but my understanding is that the visitors include up to 10 of the general secretaries of the big unions, including Len McCluskey of Unite (pictured), Paul Kenny of the GMB and Billy Hayes of the CWU. (Although Dave Prentis of Unison has rejected the invite).
The story in tomorrow’s FT is here. Cameron’s aides won’t tell me whether the menu is beer and sandwiches or Pimms and scones.
It’s hard to gauge whether the meeting will help to calm tensions between the two sides or whether it will inflame them; the union movement is furious about the scale of the public sector cuts initiated by the coalition. A big rally is to be held in March in London. And although widespread strikes have not yet happened – contrary to press predictions of a ‘winter of discontent’ – they may take place next year. I’m told that at recent meetings of union leaders there has been a hardening of tone; not least because the brothers want to retain ownership of the anti-cuts agenda. (Which was not the case during the tuition fees demonstrations.)
It may seem curious that Cameron would even hope to achieve anything from the meeting, given that his party has spent months being rude about unions whose leaders have traded insults with equal enthusiasm. But his aides say that he kept channels of communication open in opposition and intends to do so in government.
As an aside, I’m also picking up the rumour that Ed Miliband intends to attempt some sort of symbolic rupture with the unions in the New Year in a latterday Clause 4 moment. It’s hard to imagine this could be more than totemic, however, given how deeply Labour now depends on the unions’ deep pockets.