Unions 'disgusted' by Government infighting

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Backing for Gordon Brown among his union supporters began to slip away yesterday as they expressed their "disgust" at the infighting at the top of the Government.

Most of Britain's largest unions refused to give Mr Brown their unequivocal endorsement, with many warning that the Chancellor would have to deliver a sharp change of policy to earn their support.

Mr Brown is due to address the ruling general council of the TUC tomorrow evening. Tony Blair will hold a question and answer session with the conference itself. But their public falling out appears to have ensured a critical reception for both.

Dave Prentis, leader of the public service union Unison and one of Mr Brown's main supporters in the union movement, said Labour could lose the election if the civil war carried on. He made it clear that the Chancellor would need to work hard to win his organisation's support.

In a thinly veiled reference to the former home secretary Charles Clarke, he said some senior figures in the party had "let the claret do the talking".

He was particularly angry about the Chancellor's continued support for private-sector involvement in the NHS.

He said Unison, one of the biggest financial donors to the party, would assess the policies on offer and make its recommendation on the leadership to its members. Members of Labour's union affiliates command a third of the votes in the party's electoral college

Tony Woodley, leader of the Transport and General workers, said his union had "no preference" over who should take over as leader. "We will listen to what people have to say," he said, adding that the infighting had to stop.

Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary who had extolled the virtues of the Chancellor before the weekend, was far more coy yesterday, refusing to say who he would back.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, lambasted Mr Brown for backing privatisation and civil service job cuts.

He said: "I would find it remarkable if any one of the five to six million people who deliver public services believes that a Brown premiership would bring better times ahead."

Mr Brown also got little change out of the GMB. Leaders of the union said they wanted to a see a "proper contest" where policy issues were at the forefront rather than personalities.

Amicus was the only major Labour Party donor to remain loyal to the Chancellor. A senior union source made it clear that Mr Brown remained the Labour leadership candidate most likely to win trade union support.

The view from the TUC

* Gordon Rowntree, 46, HM Revenue and Customs worker and a delegate from the Public and Commercial Services Union.

"I'm an ex-Labour Party member, and I have never been a particular supporter of Blair or Brown. We should be going back to old Labour values of quality public services delivered by public servants. Mr Brown has looked like he thinks he can just walk into Blair's shoes. But in a democratic organisation there should be a real choice."

* Tracy Clarke, 42, textile worker from Langley Mill, Nottinghamshire, and delegate from the Community union.

"I have supported Labour since I was old enough to vote. I'm fed up with all the bickering that is going on about one job. I work in manufacturing industry and I wish people had got so angry over jobs in manufacturing. Mr Brown has always looked like an inevitable choice as the next Labour leader. Now I don't know if he is right for the job."

* Peter Hughes, 51, a steel worker from Cardiff and a member of the Community union.

"I have voted Labour for as long as I have been able to vote. But confidence in the Government is really low because of this bickering. They need now to win the confidence of unions. I'm not bothered who takes over. But I think Mr Brown and Mr Blair have to say something to give us confidence. This argument just makes me switch off."

* Carole Maleham, a 54-year-old van driver working for museums and art centres in Rotherham, is a member of Unison.

"I am appalled by the behaviour of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. I've been a member of the Labour Party for more than 30 years. But all they are doing is driving people into the arms of the Tories. How can you go out on the doorstep now and ask people to vote Labour? What would you say?''