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Government should prepare for ‘unpopularity’ amid further strikes, says former cabinet minister

  • Politics

Lord Kenneth Clarke has warned ministers that they should be prepared for a period of unpopularity as more trade unions plan to go on strike in the coming months.

Clarke, who served in the cabinets of Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron in a political career spanning 50 years told the i newspaper: “We cannot return to the situation of 40 years ago when it was accepted that final offers and independent recommendations could always be improved on by any workers prepared to take strike action,” he said.

“This makes the government very unpopular in the short term but popularity will return in time for the election if inflation is reduced and economic growth returns.”

Clarke’s comments come as the postal service, flights and driving lessons are all set to be disrupted by strikes ahead of Christmas. 

A walkout by Border Force staff on Friday will affect more than a quarter of a million passengers arriving on thousands of flights to the UK. The airports affected are Heathrow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester airports, and the port of Newhaven in East Sussex.

About 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union will continue to strike over the remaining days of 2022, apart from 27 December.

The home office, which is responsible for Border Force, has respond by drafting in officials from other departments as well as members of the armed forces as a contingency workforce to try to mitigate the effects of the strikes.

The National Highways workers in London and the South East are continuing their four-day walkout, which started on Thursday. 

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of postal workers walk out again in an increasingly bitter dispute. Royal Mail has said it would do all it could to ensure delivery of last-minute Christmas cards and parcels, but added that the industrial action, which will have covered 18 days this year by Christmas, had now cost it £100m.

A spokesperson said: “Over the next 48 hours we will be doing all we can to deliver Christmas for our customers. Thousands of employees from across the business have swapped their regular day jobs to help sort and deliver the festive mailbag. We are grateful to them and the more than 12,000 posties who returned to work on the last strike day”.

The general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), Dave Ward, said the company was trying “to destroy the jobs of postal workers and remove their union from the workplace”. 

Friday’s strikes follow action earlier this week by nurses and ambulance workers.

Junior doctors are expected to vote for strike action in January in a dispute over pay, at a time when nurses and ambulance staff are also due to strike.