“Boris Johnson as Prime Minister – honestly, who’d have thought it possible? Clearly not his own family, given that his own brother so publicly and so quickly abandoned him!”
Addressing the union’s LGBT+ conference in Bournemouth this morning, UNISON president Josie Bird was clear that, even in such busy times for activists, the coming general election had to be a priority.
“We really are living in unprecedented times. After all, we have a prime minister who does not respect democracy and thinks he is above the law,” she said.
“But now, we have a chance to change all that. This is the most important general election in a generation.
“Weneed a government that will heal the divisions in this country; that will bring people back together.
“It’s our chance to finally bring down a curtain on Tory misrule. To put an end to nine years of punishing austerity.”
Ms Bird was clear that, despite the cultivated image, Boris Johnson “hasno regard for working class people.
“This is a man who is prepared to destroy our economy to appease a hardcore of Tory militants. He’s hell-bent on a hard Brexit, no matter what the cost.
“His approach is all about entrenching disunity, fuelling the politics of hate – and he is endangering the peace process in Northern Ireland,” she told them.
Were further evidence needed, the opening days of the Conservatives’ election campaign had seen “Jacob Rees-Mogg suggest that the victims of the Grenfell fire lacked ‘common sense’,” followed by a faked video of Labour’s Keir Starmer and an attempt to mislead the public about the impact of Universal Credit.
“All of this was capped off with the leak of a Tory dossier, revealing that the party don’t want candidates to commit to protecting the NHS from Trump.
“Nor should they pledge to defend the planet from climate change.
“But they are fine to support the use of shooting as a sport to win votes in rural areas!”
Ms Bird said that “we, as activists, have a huge responsibility to encourage our members, our friends, our family and everyone to vote – and to use their vote wisely and to vote for public services.”
She observed that some would like to ensure that the election is a single-issue one – about Brexit.
But it is vital to shift the debate onto some of the other issues that affect UNISON members and working-class communities every day.
“We have to ensure this election is as much about jobs and living standards as it is about Brexit,” she told the hall.
“The prime minister has promised to cut taxes for millions of high earners, while the rest of us continue to pay the price.
“The recent spending promises were a farce – they were too little, too late and go nowhere near far enough to start patching up the holes blown in our public services since 2010.”
The president noted that her own service group, local government, had been hit the hardest, with a quarter of local authority jobs lost since 2010 and 20 councils having cut staff numbers by at least half over the same period, while “the gap between available funding and what councils need is set to hit £25bn by 2025.”
The cuts across all public services had, she said, been accompanied by attacks on wages, leaving a million public service workers being paid below the real living wage and more than 400,000 receiving illegal levels of low pay below the minimum wage.
In the meantime, the gender pay gap has widened in the public sector over the past year.
Painting an equally bleak picture of the country’s wider economy, she noted that “research in the last few weeks suggests the average Briton is actually £128 worse off than 10 years ago.”
No wonder, then, that Ms Bird asserted that: “The sooner we can kick them out of power the better!”
If you have not already done so, you need to register by 11:59pm on 26 November to vote in the general election on 12 December.
If you want to apply to vote by post, register before 5pm on 26 November if you live in England, Scotland or Wales, and 5pm on 21 November if you live in Northern Ireland.
Find out more at www.unison.org.uk/register-vote-general-election/