The strike on Bonfire Night threatens to be a PR disaster of massive proportions for both the union and the employers. All it needs is for someone to die and the blame game will start. If no one dies or is seriously injured it will be a massive stroke of good fortune. Last year there were 680 calls to the fire brigade on 5th November, nearly three times the normal rate. If this year it is fewer it will be because people have cancelled their firework parties.
Boris Johnson and Brian Coleman insist the emergency cover by AssetCo's 27 appliances will be able to cope. Bearing in mind there are normally 165 available, and on 5 November they can hardly cope, I think it is fair to say that the Mayor and Chairman of the Fire Authority speak more in hope than expectation.
As I know from my LBC phone ins, ask 20 firefighters why they are on strike and you get at least 15 different answers. Ostensibly it is about the employers' wish to impose relatively minor changes to shift patterns, but the FBU have used it to put about scare stories about future reductions in night cover or a possible reduction in fire appliances.
Coleman has said publicly on several occasions he will guarantee that neither of those will happen. But the union pretends not to hear.
They reckon the shift pattern changes are not conducive to family life and that firefighters wouldn't be able to see their kids. This might have more clout if we didn't know they work 4 days on, 3 1/2 days off, unlike the rest of us who work 5 days on 2 days off. If we're lucky. And we might have more sympathy for that argument if we didn't know that a good proportion of firefighters have second jobs. They maintain they have to, as they can't live on £33k a year. Fair enough, but don't expect us to fall for arguments about family time then.
The leaking of second job figures (and more) to the newspapers is regrettable. I know from experience that this sort of thing happens in industrial disputes in the battle for hearts and minds, but it is so blatant here what is going on and it's the wrong tactic. Demonising firefighters won't work, and nor should it. Whatever misery their union is inflicting, the public won't be persuaded that firefighters are anything other than very brave people indeed. At least, they won't be until they see the consequences of the November 5th strike.
We are entering a very dangerous period for both sides. And I don't think either is going to blink in time to avert what could be a major catastrophe.