The lecturers' union Natfhe was fighting fit and proud of it at its annual conference in Blackpool. Steve Hook reports
BRITAIN'S "neo-Conservative" Labour government was "doing things the Tories never dared to do", said Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe.
In a withering attack on a succession of "failed" New Labour policies, Mr Mackney predicted an uncompromising backlash from the unions.
The Government, which did not send a minister to the conference, faces the prospect of seeing Natfhe becoming a leading force in an outbreak of industrial action by public-sector unions as they defend what they see as the creeping privatisation of public services.
He told delegates in Blackpool on Saturday: "Tony Blair promised us a second term more radical than the first. Frankly, the second term has been a major disappointment. The hole at the centre of New Labour thinking is now being filled with some very unsavoury ideas."
He accused ministers of setting public services up to fail to justify privatisation.
He said. "Governments under-invest in education or health. The service begins to suffer. Those holding everything together with sticking plaster are set impossible targets then blamed for failure, while corporate vultures circle. Barely a week goes by without another private company moving into education."
He said the early comments of New Labour figures such as Peter Mandelson should have alerted people to its nature.
"We might be outraged by this neo-conservative culture but the philosopher of New Labour, Peter Mandelson, is 'intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich'."
Mr Mackney had a few words for the "elitists" whom he says have influenced the Government's line on university tuition fees.
"The elitists seem to be gaining ground," he joked, "though I can tell you from my experience on the winning side against Chris Woodhead's team at the Oxford union, their arguments are thoroughly shallow.
"We should increase the pressure for the immediate ending of up-front fees."
Barry Lovejoy, head of colleges, hinted that industrial action across the public sector could be on the way.
The kind of collaboration which Natfhe has shown with public-sector union Unison over pay could spread to other areas.
"That sort of action may well be required across the public sector," he said.