What is the point of Dispatches?
Last night was exceptional for any student of politics watching telly – not only was a Panorama expose on the supposedly dodgy dealings of Lord Ashcroft kiboshed at the last minute, but Dispatches supposedly tackled Bob Crow, Trades Union militancy, and the Trades Union movement in general.
From the start, the images used were of old-style picket line violence from the 1970s and 1980s, whilst the narrator intoned on the threats of fighting in the streets a’la Greece, none too subtly I fear.( Although she made it clear, in hushed tones, that Bob Crow was advocating nothing of the kind) There was an allegation of bullying within the RMT – a serious allegation, that would have been worthwhile following up as a whole programme. It wasn’t pursued, so the reporters’ source is left high and dry, and a valuable and important line of enquiry was left hanging, easily dismissed as a smear. Supporting evidence for bullying came from an ex Tory minister, and a senior figure at London Underground – both guaranteed to be neutral observers. There was shock news that Bob Crow is a bit of a Communist. Speaking of which, most of the footage shown of the annual Tolpuddle March concentrated on stalls for tiny organisations – such as Class War, and the Communist Party of Britain – very representative.
Moving on to more moderate Leaders, the image used to illustrate a more diversified campaign against cuts was of the Battle of Trafalgar Square Poll Tax Riot. Hardly a balanced image for a campaign with the purpose of uniting Union members with other members of the public against cuts.
The pay packets of Union Leaders were at least mentioned – again, a worthwhile avenue for exploration, very few of us would want to see many TradesUnion Leaders on banker-style pay. It was interesting to see Derek Simpson trying to justify his wage, and at least featured Jerry Hicks a candidate who would halve his pay packet, if elected.
Dodgy charity deals involving Les Bayliss (another Unite candidate and Simpson’s heir apparent) were aired – but again, this needs a whole programme to present a proper investigation. Again, what we get is easily batted away as “media smears”. This is a huge disservice to Trades Union members, and to journalism. Very serious accusations such as those posed so far really do need much better coverage. Worse I am afraid, was to come.
Misrepresentation by Unison officials to their low paid female members was next, potentially taking tens of thousands of pounds out of members pockets. Unpaid officials being intimidated and harassed for simply doing their job, and eventually removed. If these stories are true, and they certainly could be, there is a lot that Union Machines and their functionaries have to answer for.
The final expert witness was Tory-about-town James Forsyth, assuring us all that the Coalition wanted nothing more than to be friends with the Trades Union movement, and that it was only their horrible leaders who prevented this love-in.
A little repetition of the canard that Ed Miliband was selected by the Unions rounded of this episode.
All-in-all, it painted a pretty bleak picture of todays Trades Unions, and each and every accusation deserves to be treated seriously, and with full investigations. This is not what we got here. What we got was more or less a scattergun of lightly investigated stories, that the guilty will brush aside, and will only be used by right wingers to hit ordinary Union members fighting against the cuts with.
All found, one is left asking “What is the point of Dispatches?”