Labour Conference: Industry - Mandelson spin under attack

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The Independent Online
PETER MANDELSON was comprehensively upstaged yesterday by the leader of the Post Office workers' union who derided the destructive briefing of "faceless and spineless backroom boys in Whitehall".

Referring to newspaper reports hinting at the privatisation of the Post Office, Derek Hodgson, leader of the Communication Workers" Union, told the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that his members were "sick and tired of spin and leaks".

Unlike Mr Mandelson's speech, which was greeted with polite applause, the union leader's contribution was punctuated by cheers and concluded in a standing ovation.

An address by Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers Union, called on the minister not to water down proposals on employment rights and also drew an enthusiastic reception.

Mr Morris later demanded that the "fairness at work" White Paper be implemented in its entirety, including the abolition of the limit on compensation for unfair dismissal.

The debate was a clear victory by "Old Labour" over "New Labour". Mr Hodgson's speech received the most prolonged applause.

The Secretary of State sat stony-faced as Mr Hodgson tore into the anonymous "spinners" of Whitehall.

Mr Hodgson's anger had been prompted by two articles, one of which forecast that Post Office employees would receive pounds 2,000 worth of free shares if the organisation was partially privatised and another which said that senior managers were secretly plotting to sell off 40 per cent of the equity.

The union leader reminded Mr Mandelson that he had promised the TUC conference earlier this month there would be no more spinning. "Well Peter, I suggest you tell some of your colleagues to follow your example if you truly mean it."

The story suggesting there would be free shares for postal workers was "rubbish", but even if it were true postal workers would not be bribed. And he pointed out that the so-called plot to sell off the corporation was based on a leaked letter. "Let me say to this conference I and the Post Office workers are sick and tired of spin and leaks and being used as political footballs by faceless, spineless backroom boys in Whitehall. It's got to stop and this conference should clearly say that."

Referring to a call for mutual trust in the movement by Tony Blair yesterday, he said: "I say this to the Prime Minister - trust must work both ways - you can trust the CWU, but you must sort out your own ministerial departments who are promoting mistrust."

Mr Blair and the party had promised commercial freedom for the Post Office, but 100 per cent state ownership. "It is therefore a question of the integrity of the Government being on the line. If they don't keep promises how can they expect others to do so?"

Mr Mandelson's address lacked any detailed commitments, but sought to make his mark as the friend of Britain's entrepreneurs.