I wanted to take this opportunity to comment on the death of Bob Crow.
I met Bob two years ago. I say 'met', the truth of it was I stood next to him in the same field. That's because we'd both been invited to speak at the Burston Strike School Rally. As anyone who has heard Bob speak will know, he's not a speaker you're likely to forget in a hurry. The passion, the conviction and even the volume with which he spoke that day was unlike anything I had heard before. A giant of a man with lungs to match, he quite literally brought the house down. His bellowing voice in little need of a microphone.
When he'd finished I went looking for him to shake his hand, partly for what he'd just said but just as much for how he'd said it. Clearly our politics were not identical. Bob had been a fierce critic of the Labour Party and had been instrumental in the RMT disaffiliating from the Party. Nonetheless I respected him for his unflinching commitment to his members and for his clear and impassioned attacks on the greed and hypocrisy of free market dogma.
Suffice to say I eventually found him, chatting and laughing away with a pint and burger in hand. But as I approached I'm afraid to say I completely bottled it. Why on earth, I asked myself, would he want to talk to a PPC from a party he was often critical of? It's something I now deeply regret, especially on hearing the news of his death.
Now, two years later listening to his political enemies and friends pay tribute to him, a few pennies have dropped.
Despite whatever warm words Boris Johnson and other Tories have come out with, they both feared and despised Bob Crow in equal measure. They knew in him they'd met an uncompromising fighter who could not be cowed or intimidated by whatever they or their newspaper friends threw at him. He didn't play by their rules or the consensus they had forged and that made him dangerous. It also made him effective - as demonstrated by the above inflation pay rises he won for his members throughout the economic downturn.
For my own Party Bob Crow's death has had its own unintended consequences. Watching some of the front bench interviews has, at times, been painful. One was asked why Bob had been such successful trade union leader? You could see their discomfort. They understood that whilst Bob's uncompromising attitude might have struggled to win previous general elections, it nonetheless left him untainted by many of the compromises the Party has made these past 30 years. In a febrile political atmosphere, where the failed consensus politics of the past 30 years now finds itself under attack from both left and right, Bob's untainted and uncompromising approach will resonate with many.
Does that mean his political outlook was the right one? For his members, almost certainly. For the country at large, that's less clear-cut. But that doesn't mean our Party cannot learn from his life and the courage of his political conviction.
For me it was Labour MP Stephen Pound, who sits on the RMT parliamentary group, who got Bob spot on: "He could be hard work but then true believers often are."