OPINION: New union faces will perk up rhetoric and the forum

A quiet revolution has been taking place in the TUC since Tony Blair became Prime Minister. A new generation of union leaders has been elected by their members and they all have one thing in common. None of them agree with Blair's political views. My own Union, the NUJ, has elected a youthful looking and left-leaning Jeremy Dear. The railway workers have elected Bob Crow, who makes Arthur Scargill sound like a pussycat while the firefighters have replaced their canny militant leader Ken Cameron with Andy Gilchrist, a younger version of Ken. He will soon become a household name as he leads his members into battle over pay.

The leader who has caused the biggest stir is Derek Simpson, who ousted the extreme right-wing Blairite Sir Ken Jackson of the bizarrely named Amicus Union.

Jackson was heard to shout at one of his supporters that if they had spent half as much time organising his campaign as they did on his hastily cancelled victory party he might not have lost. Having been elected by secret postal ballot no-one can say that Simpson doesn't represent the views of his members, though given the media's coverage of his views I doubt if the rest of the country is aware of what they really are.

The refreshing thing about Simpson is that he has been so busy representing his members that he hasn't had any time to partake in any so-called media training. Neither has Bob Crow, who had hardbitten hacks in stitches as he spelled out his hostility to New Labour. Sitting in on some of the unions press conferences, as I did this week, was a real pleasure for a change.

In particular the new Amicus boss had no pre-prepared soundbites and thus had a genuine dialogue with the growing number of Labour correspondents. All the journalists I spoke to were delighted with this different approach having been bored to death by John Edmonds and Bill Morris.

Simpson's only sop to the media was to change his black shirt and that was only when someone pointed out that it made him look too sinister for TV. 'Who cares what I look like?' he protested. It's difficult convincing people that on TV people are far more interested in your looks than in what you say.

I desperately hope that Mr Simpson resists the temptation to bow to his media minders and get 'media trained,' but the omens are not good. In virtually his first ever major interview with The Sunday Times he was stitched up and quoted as saying that he wanted to give Tony Blair a 'f****** migraine.' You could hardly blame him then if in future he is much less candid and consequently more boring. Simpson's remarks on not wanting to meet the Prime Minister were also taken out of context. In fact he met Blair privately within days of being elected.

The media are forever complaining that politicians all sound like robots but the experience of Simpson explains why.

I spoke to Derek about his experience and fortunately he is not as prickly as some politicians are about their treatment by the media. I did tell him that he will never have to be critical of Blair in the future because the press cuts that hacks rely so heavily on will forever show that he refused to meet the Prime Minister and said he would give him a big headache.

It's pointless ever trying to tell anyone that this wasn't true, I said.

He just laughed.Thankfully Simpson has a sense of humour.

I can't say that I'm looking forward to the forthcoming Labour conference where we will have to listen to speeches delivered not for the delegates but for the ten second soundbite on the evening news bulletin. At least people like Derek Simpson will be there to liven things up.

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