There is, according to the Telegraph’s Matthew Holehouse, a bit of a to-do going on in the constituency of Harlow. The local Trades Union Council is motioning against Labour’s candidate for the next election, a Unite-backed party advisor called Suzy Stride. As Holehouse reports, they’ve taken to calling her “Silent Suzy” on account of her… well… silence on a range of issues that matter to them. And they even contrast her unfavourably with the serving Tory MP, one Robert Halfon. “We are deeply concerned that we have received far more support from Conservative MP Robert Halfon on the issues of trade union facility time and job losses at Comet and Tesco than we have from Suzy,” says one. Unite’s political director has subsequently attacking this viewpoint as “unacceptable”.
No doubt CCHQ will want to make something of Unite’s involvement in the whole farrago. But their time would be better spent asking a simple question: what is it that explains Robert Halfon’s popularity among trade unionists in Harlow? The answer, as it happens, is only partially contained within the testimony of that trade unionist above: Mr Halfon works to support their causes within his constituency. The rest is in the work he does in Westminster, such as the pamphlet he wrote for Demos entitled Stop the union-bashing: Why Conservatives should embrace the trade union movement, or his campaigns lower fuel duty and for a 10p tax rate. In fact, I last year described Mr Halfon as one of a special breed of Mass Multi Media MPs:
“This is where Robert Halfon has been so effective. His recent campaigns have stretched from the Internet to the mean corridors of Parliament itself. He is fighting for national policies based on the concerns of his constituents – and winning.”
I’ve referred to Mr Halfon’s work many times on ConservativeHome, including in this article – and I make no apologies for doing so. What’s happening in Harlow isn’t just another reminder that trade unionists are more variegated and freethinking than the Unite leadership would like them to be. It’s a demonstration that working with the unions, rather than just politicking at their expense, can have an appreciable effect. And that’s a point that bears repeating.