Diary: Union merger that would be a disaster for the Labour Party


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The Independent Online

Britain's biggest union, Unite, was "reviewing its position" yesterday – as were other unions – as the dispute over public sector pensions edged towards a settlement.

Some unions are minded to accept the Government's latest offer, but not the leadership of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), who have turned it down and have been shut out of negotiations.

In June, Unite's General Secretary Len McCluskey, made a ringing promise: "We are in full solidarity with the PCS to stand united so we can stop this Government's agenda in its tracks," he said.

So he will not want to accept a deal to settle on behalf of the 250,000 Unite members working in the public sector while the PCS fights on.

In right-wing union circles, it is rumoured that there is more to this than routine union solidarity. Mr McCluskey is 61 and will retire in a few years. There is no obvious successor from the left in Unite to take his place, while the right claim they are spoilt for choice of credible candidates.

But suppose, as is rumoured, Unite and the PCS are contemplating a merger. That would put the PCS's leader Mark Serwotka, who is 13 years younger than McCluskey, in pole position to take control of a new super union with a membership of almost 1.8 million.

For the Government, that would mean the prospect of a large, well-funded civil service union under militant leadership ready to do constant battle against cuts and redundancies.

But for the Labour Party it could be financial disaster. Unite's vast political fund is the source of almost a quarter of the party's total income. Mark Serwotka is not a Labour Party member but has been linked to saviour groups to the left of Labour, and might prefer to put Unite's money into fighting industrial battles rather than channelling it in Ed Miliband's direction.

Unite yesterday dismissed this as Westminster gossip. "We are not in merger talks," a spokesman said.

Commissioner's Twitter gaffe

All credit to the recently appointed Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe for making a pioneering effort to reach out to the public via a question and answer session on Twitter.

I hate to quibble, but one of his answers probably did not mean what it said. The question was "What do you see as the major issues affecting policing today?" The Commissioner wrote: "Less money, pubic protest, Olympic preparations."

When you have a minute, Mr Commissioner, get out a dictionary and check the spelling of "public".

The Christmas tree cover-up at Browns'

Twitter also offered a glimpse yesterday of the home life of Gordon and Sarah Brown and their two young sons. "Catastrophe: xmas tree knocked over while I was out, and everyone tried to pretend it didn't happen *totally rumbled the cover up*" Sarah Brown tweeted to her 1.7 million followers late on Monday evening.

What? The former Prime Minister implicated in a cover-up? A subsequent tweet suggested that he may not have been involved. It revealed: "Tree incident set off when a football got kicked behind the tree and small person went to retrieve it *indoor football totally banned*".