The strange affair of the Lib Dem Trot
Meet Steve Comer (second from left above). He’s a Liberal Democrat and a Bristol City Councillor. He’s quite influential in Bristol because he’s an Executive Member and sits on the Cabinet that takes decisions about the city.
Steve is a very busy man as he also has another job sitting on the National Executive of the PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union). This is the civil serviçe union dominated by the far left that has a reputation for militancy and robustly taking on New Labour over public service cuts, privatisation, pensions and the growth of fat cat consultants in the public sector.
The curious socialist sects – far too complicated and boring to go into here – that make up the PCS leadership are not the most obvious political home for a Liberal Democrat like Steve. In fact its downright weird as his party are the Joe Cole of British politics. They might do the odd ineffective trick out there on the byline to impress the crowd but at the first opportunity they’ll be cutting inside to get on the right foot where they play their natural game.
“So what,” you say, “Comer’s the common sense voice of Liberal Democracy amongst the Tankie weirdoes and Trot obssessives of the PCS leadership.”
Not exactly. Comer is one of the Tankie weirdoes and Trot obssessives in the PCS. He’s part of a far left grouping that controls the PCS Executive Committee called The Democratic Alliance. He’s even up for election to the Executive Committee at the moment and he’s signed up, once again, to The Democratic Alliance slate and is promoting their major campaigns including: “No further privatisation without negotiations and agreement.”
He also openly supports the union’s position that in the event of a privatisation being pursued, “there will always be an in-house bid”. And he is currently backing industrial action at the department of Revenue and Customs, “as part of a national civil service-wide campaign against job cuts, privatisation and below inflation pay.”
“These are good, solid, anti-New Labour positions Steve’s taking up,” you say. “It’s just what a Lib Dem should be doing. What’s your problem?”
Well the problem is that when Steve attended a Cabinet meeting on Thursday 22 March 2007, one of the agenda items was ‘Homecare Futures’. And the future of homecare in Bristol is now the private sector after Steve and his cabinet colleagues voted unaminously to privatise the service.
That’s right. The man who in one job opposes – in the words of his PCS boss Mark Serwotka – “dogmatic polic[ies] of outsourcing and privatisation” is doing just that in another.
Comer’s position is mindbending. As a Liberal Democrat councillor he’s privatised a public service “without negotiations and agreement” and ensured that there will be no “in-house bid” to run the service as he would demand as an executive of the PCS.
You might legitimately conclude then that Comer believes that what’s right and proper for his PCS members is irrelevant for low-paid, female home care workers belonging to UNISON and AMICUS that he is directly responsible for. Whatever happened to those fundamental principles on which British trade unionism was founded – brotherhood and fraternity?
You can forget all that old-fashioned nonsense with the likes of Comer. He will have no problem holding two entirely different and conflicting views for two entirely different and conflicting audiences.
There is no longer anything particularly surprising or unusual in this at all. You only have to have observed the principle-free, policy-lite antics of the Bristol Labour Party for years and the Lib Dems more recently to know this. And nationally New Labour has turned rank hypocrisy into an artform.
Liberal and left party politicians of all persuasions dumped the complicated stuff like ideology, class interest and commitment to social justice years ago in favour of personal self-interest. Nowadays it’s all about tactics, contingency and calculation. It’s management, stupid. And that’s what Comer’s about.
He’s a modern party politician. He believes in nothing except his right to get elected to committees and run things in a way that keeps him there and he’ll say anything to continue doing this. The Liberal Democrats will have no problem with this either. They quite like to pretend they’re against things they’re really in favour of like privatisation and the war. There’s votes in it.
The PCS’ response, however, will be interesting. This is a union with a distinctive – these days – militant, left wing image and a reputation as one of the market leaders in defending public services. Can they really afford to have a Tory boy with a pudding basin hairdo and a penchant for shafting low-paid, female public sector workers in their midst?
Don’t hold your breath. The far left for all its fine talk, moralising and carefully honed principles is at least as cynical, back-sliding and capable of extraordinary double standards as the rest of them.
Over to you then Mr Serwotka… Is your union full of shit?