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Paul Vallely: Why is Mick Lynch suddenly popular?  

01 July 2022

The RMT leader skilfully exposes political duplicity, concludes Paul Vallely


Mick Lynch addresses an RMT demonstration outside King’s Cross Station, in London, last Saturday

Mick Lynch addresses an RMT demonstration outside King’s Cross Station, in London, last Saturday

THE public have always liked a cheeky chappy. But there is more than that to the sudden popularity of Mick Lynch, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). How has he managed this, despite leading the biggest round of strikes on the rail network for more than 30 years?

Here’s a clue. One of the managers for Network Rail, the government-owned body that runs the railways, was complaining the other day that “Lynch has spent more time on telly than at the negotiating table.” That’s because, the union replied, he needed to correct the torrent of bogus “facts” about the strike being put out by managers, politicians, and the media.

Yet even those who lack the knowledge to adjudge between the claim and counterclaim concede that Mr Lynch has won the PR battle over the strikes with a series of dextrous media responses.

When he was told that the Governor of the Bank of England had said that unions should adopt pay restraint to avoid fuelling inflation, he replied: “Pay restraint? He’s on £600,000 a year, as is the chief of Network Rail.” When the former Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick accused the RMT of losing 20 per cent of rail passengers, Mr Lynch riposted: “I haven’t lost them, Covid did. We operated trains all throughout that period.”

When the junior minister Chris Philp launched one of those unending uninterruptable monologues with which Conservative politicians now seek to consume all the available air time and thus silence their opponents, the RMT leader just kept punctuating the monologue with deft rapier thrusts, asserting: “That’s a lie”. “A direct lie.” “That’s a lie.” “He’s lying.” “You are a liar.” Collapse of stout party.

Mr Lynch was as just as skilful with the media, particularly with television presenters who tried “gotcha” questions. He made the Sky News presenter Kay Burley look embarrassingly gauche when she tried to trick him into threatening violence on the picket-line.

Next, Piers Morgan, on Talk TV, drivelled on about Mr Lynch’s looking like a Thunderbirds villain, who was “an evil, criminal, terrorist mastermind, described as the world’s most dangerous man, who wreaked utter carnage and havoc on the public”. The RMT man responded: “Is that the level your journalism is at, Piers?”

When Richard Madeley asked on Good Morning Britain whether Mr Lynch was a Marxist, aiming at revolution and the downfall of capitalism, he replied: “No, I’m a working-class bloke leading a trade-union dispute about jobs, pay, and conditions of service.”

And that, it seems to me, is precisely what explains the surge of popularity for the strong and articulate RMT leader. His skill and acuity expose the prejudices buried within the questions of journalists following the Government’s agenda. And his plain speaking and authenticity lay bare the duplicity of slippery Tory ministers who tie the hands of railway negotiators, but refuse to admit it.

But, above all, it is because what Mr Lynch is fighting for, he asserts, is a pay deal that keeps pace with inflation and a railway modernisation that avoids compulsory redundancies. He may be speaking only for railway workers. But what he said rings true for teachers, NHS workers, barristers, and anyone who has seen their pay fall in real terms over the past decade.

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