I’m not sure whether it really came over on TV or not, but Blair got an unbelievably hard time at the TUC.
It started off with his introduction from the TUC President, Gloria Mills, who said, “You’re welcome to TUC Congress,” which brought shouts of “no you’re not” from the audience.
It’s been well publicised that the RMT delegation walked out after displaying anti-war, anti-Blair posters. There were other delegations also displaying posters who did not leave, such as the FBU and another smallish delegation that I didn’t’ recognise. A couple of people who seemed to be sitting in the Amicus delegation also held up posters.
Throughout the speech, Blair was heckled, for example his comment that he “opposed all forms of terrorism around the world” was met with a shout of “expect for Israel”. He also came out with the inexplicable line that he couldn’t support peace in Israel/Palestine “if it threatened Israel’s security”. Some people asked how any kind of peace threatens Israel’s security.
Most notable, I thought, were two things. Firstly how little applause he got. Certainly he got a polite clap for old faithful clap-traps like “we can’t have another 18 years of Tory Government”. But, he was even unable to get a clap for sticking up for migrant workers in a way that, to be honest, really deserved praise.
The other very interesting thing was the questions. All but one of the questions in the Q&A were basically hostile to Blair. Even Community, surely one of the most pro-Labour leadership unions, asked a tough question on pensions. There is always an exception, and that was provided by good ol’ USDAW, who asked something akin to would you like to tell us what your government has been doing for trade unions?
The speech ended with a standing ovation of… four people, one of whom was Jonathan Baume.
And perhaps that’s the most significant thing. It’s really not very long since Blair would have commanded the whole thing. He was tolerated by the more pro-government unions and jeered by those more hostile. This really does illustrate how far his authority as a leader of the Labour movement has plunged.