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
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
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.