BEHIND THE HEADLINES: GMB takes lead in unions' challenge to PFI

As campaigns go, the blue-collar union GMB's tactics to halt the

Government's PFI drive are more Otto von Bismark than Karl Marx.



Under the leadership of general secretary John Edmonds, it is leading an

aggressive assault on all flanks.



GMB communications director Dan Hodges said the anti-PFI headlines

during the TUC conference in Brighton are just one part of its PR

assault. He says: 'By this time next year, will he (Tony Blair) be able

to continue with his stance on PFI if he no longer has the support of

his party, MPs, unions and the public?'



The union feels the public is already won over. This week a gleeful GMB

press release claimed, via a Mori poll, Labour could lose a quarter of

its voters over the issue.



The PR campaign is now unashamedly trying to get under Blair's skin.

'This is a PM that is very interested in headlines,' says Hodges.



Blair's capitulation on Government foot-and-mouth slaughter policy

earlier this year - based on a few heart-rending calf-based headlines -

would appear to back this up.



And Labour MPs are getting the same treatment. Those the GMB predicts

will lose their seats should PFI continue its march, are being force fed

tales of their imminent demise, through both local media and their own

fax machines.



The GMB has also sent postcards to MPs with a stark image of their

vulnerability - that of independent MP Dr Richard Taylor, who won the

Wyre Forest seat at the last election on the strength of public feeling

over the closure of his local hospital.



The TUC has taken a different stance to the GMB. Its goals are the same

but the approach is softer. A TUC source said: 'It's not about picking

off MPs. We do not send them press releases. We are concerned they have

issues explained to them.'



The private companies being rubbished seem to be keeping a low profile.

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs was hired last month (PRWeek, August 3) by

the PPP Forum, comprised of companies already involved in such

schemes.



One task is to liaise with union members. But according to BPPA

associate director Paul Montague Smith, they are yet to complete a

communications strategy, the Forum's director Cathy McGlynn is abroad

and no decision on tactics will be made until the Forum meets at the end

of the month.



By then, in view of aggressive communications tactics by the likes of

the GMB, it may be too late to undo the reputational damage done to PFI.



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