Cameron sets out to woo the unions away from Labour

Tory leader begins a 'beer and sandwiches' initiative, appoints envoy to the TUC and may be first Conservative chief ever to address its conference

David Cameron could be the first Conservative leader to address the TUC conference as part of a "beer and sandwiches offensive" to woo the union movement.

The Tory leader has appointed a personal trade union envoy to extend his appeal beyond core voters. It paves the way for him to take to the TUC platform as early as next year – breaking the exclusive link Labour has enjoyed with the union movement for decades.

Richard Balfe, a former Labour MEP, will have a wide-ranging remit to talk to general secretaries and sell the Tory message to the more than eight million union members in the UK. He will also develop relations with co-operatives.

No Conservative leader has addressed the TUC in its 144-year history, but aides said Mr Cameron would be happy to speak, if asked. The TUC said there were "no plans" for an invitation to this autumn's congress, but a source said: "We never rule anything out because there could be a time in the foreseeable future when he is Prime Minister."

If the Conservatives win a 2009 election, Mr Cameron could address unionists that September.

The bridge-building will be seen as a symbolic equivalent of Tony Blair's ditching of Labour's Clause 4 commitment to public ownership – a device he used to show his party had across-the-board appeal. It also distances Mr Cameron's Conservative Party from Margaret Thatcher's anti-union legislation.

The "beer and sandwiches" push mirrors the "prawn cocktail offensive" launched by Labour in the early 1990s to reassure the City that the economy would be safe in its hands.

Mr Cameron told The Independent on Sunday: "I am delighted that Richard Balfe is going to help develop our relations with the trade union and co-operative movement. I have always said that free enterprise and the co-operative principle are partners, not adversaries, and co-operatives have an important role to play in public service reform by bringing dynamism without the loss of public ethos."

Aides insisted it was not a lurch to the left but a sign that the Conservative leader was broadening his reach to prepare for government.

But the appointment could backfire by angering traditional Tories while repelling some union leaders on the left. Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT rail workers' union, said: "What we find difficult to believe is that general secretaries would be stupid enough to be embroiled in some kind of publicity stunt. It would be completely ridiculous to have Cameron addressing the conference. The Tories are the authors of the anti-union legislation which is the principal thing tying the hands of the unions today. It is only a short period of time since the Thatcher government. It is the same party, with the same policies against the trade unions."

A Unite source said: "We are a Labour-affiliated union, pure and simple. Very very clearly, we are wedded to them constitutionally."

Most unions, however, are not affiliated to Labour and nearly a third of union members vote Tory. Amicus, half of the super-union Unite, counts many middle managers among its membership. Labour leaders are given an automatic platform at the TUC every year. Tory ministers have been allowed to attend in the past but have been restricted to private TUC events.

The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, has in the past welcomed Mr Cameron's comments on fairer public sector pay, flexible working and childcare.

Mr Balfe said: "Around 30 per cent of trade union members vote Conservative, and under David Cameron's leadership the Conservative Party has shown that it has the ideas and vision to harness the co-operative movement in a way that can really benefit society. I want to show that we in the Conservative Party want to listen to and learn from these two valuable partners in society."

Mr Balfe has been a co-operative movement member since he was 16 and a union member since 1983. He was a Labour MEP between 1979 and 2001 before defecting to the Tories after that year's election.

To have your say on this or any other issue visit

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little