The Week According to Sean Dilley

Sean Dilley's take on a week in politics
Sean Dilley's take on a week in politics

Politics is undoubtedly a duller place after the death of RMT general secretary Bob Crow this week.

Feared by bosses, hated by commuters who were unhappy with strikes under his watch, but loved by his members, which was all he ever wanted. There can be no doubt that London Underground is a safer place for his contribution to policy.

As a political journalist, one has the pleasure of speaking to some of the nicest people around and inversely of course, the misfortune to speak to the nastier and most narcissistic folk… But without question, Bob has always been in the first column. A self-styled hard-head and a media-branded bruiser, Bob would always take the time to speak in public and private on any topic, cognisant as he was that ultimately his open and forthright approach benefitted those workers whom he represented.

In these changing times where no party can truly be said to be politically allied to the unions, where the Conservatives are talking of legislation to require 51% of membership votes for strikes to be legal and where Labour leader Ed Miliband feels he must distance himself from Bob Crow's politics while hailing him a great man, the late RMT general secretary can truly be described as the last of his kind.

For those who breathe a sigh of relief that unionism is dying a swift death, it should be remembered that nearly all sensible health and safety – not to be confused with the sort of bonkers stuff that has evolved – has been born from the unions. Some unions have been the authors of their own downfall, but be careful with that baby when you throw out the bath water.

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With all three main political parties jamming themselves in to the centre ground, it has been refreshing this week to see some clear water between the UK's two largest contenders. But it's not entirely clear whether that water is clear blue, red, yellow or a strange mix of all three after Ed Miliband made an announcement in the Midlands designed to clarify his position on a referendum.

Trouble is Labour's promise to hold a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the EU only if more powers are called for serves not just to rule it out but to reinforce the stereotype that politicians don't like to speak in straight forward terms.

If politicians were being straight, the Lib Dems would say "we're not holding a referendum as long as we live", Labour would say "we agree with Nick" and the Tories would say "just leave us out of this – it's tearing us apart… again".

All of the hype around Europe has been caused by a sense that Nigel Farage's Ukip are likely to give all parties a licking in May's EU elections. But let's park that issue because the real watch point here is just how similar Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg's positions are.

Imagine, if you will, another unclear result in next year's general election, when the smallest of the mainstream parties once again find themselves as the kingmakers. In 2010, the Libs and the Cons joined forces "in the national interest" to "fix our economy" and it's fair to say that conflicting political ideologies have proved fractious if not impossible in some areas. Let's imagine that much to Ed Balls' personal embarrassment, in 2015 the economy is not flatlining and the big issue of the day is nowEurope.

In our imaginary hung parliament scenario, where the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have been kicking seven shades of whatever out of each other during the election campaign, it's not a stretch to imagine that the Liberal Democrats and Labour could be claiming to be "working together in the national interest".

#JustSaying
 
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David Cameron was quick to distance himself from Tony Blair when quizzed about his relationship with the former prime minister. For legal reasons, my analysis is slightly restricted, but political watchers will understand why Mr Cameron's sense of self-preservation demands that he keeps things on a purely professional footing.

On how the relationship works, the PM said it's about a shared vision for a "two-state solution" to the Middle East problem. "I wouldn't say it's about friendship," said the PM. He conceded that "I obviously listen to Tony Blair's advice" but mitigated this by insisting that he listens "to many people's advice".

And that last fact may explain quite a lot when it comes to contradictory policies.

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