Ministers and broadcasters have tried this week to portray RMT boss Mick Lynch as a hard-left union bogeyman. He has been accused of causing misery to the travelling public and even fomenting revolution.
But Lynch has been having none of it. His quick, deft and often witty responses to a barrage of hostile questioning and cliched typecasting has won Lynch grudging praise even from rightwing commentators.
The Spectator said he made “mincemeat out of politicians and broadcast interviewers alike”. The actor Hugh Laurie, who is not known for political interventions, said Lynch “cleaned up every single media picador”.
The first of three one-day rail strikes began on Tuesday with a round of media interviews for Lynch. One by one Lynch mocked the pantomime line of questioning he faced.
It began with Good Morning Britain’s Richard Madeley, who immediately suggested Lynch was a communist. He asked: “Are you, or are you not a Marxist? Because if you are a Marxist, then you’re into revolution and into bringing down capitalism.”
Lynch smirked and replied: “You do come up with the most remarkable twaddle, I gotta say. Opening an interview with that is nonsense.”
Burley next to be dispatched
In a similar vein, Sky’s Kay Burley suggested the strike would lead to violent confrontations. She repeatedly asked Lynch what would happen if government-appointed agency workers tried to cross the picket lines.
— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) June 21, 2022
Lynch, who was standing in front of a benign-looking row of RMT pickets at Euston station, chuckled and said: “We’ll ask them not to go to work.” Turning to his colleagues he added: “You can see what picketing involves.”
Now it is Morgan’s turn
Next up was TalkTV’s Piers Morgan who wanted to know why Lynch had used a Thunderbirds villain as his profile picture on Facebook. Morgan asked: “I’m wondering where the comparison goes because he was obviously an evil, criminal, terrorist mastermind, described as the world’s most dangerous man, who wreaked utter carnage and havoc on the public?”
"Do you think I look like the most evil person in the world, Piers?"
Piers Morgan challenges RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch over his Facebook profile picture showing Thunderbirds baddie The Hood.@piersmorgan | @TalkTV | #piersmorganuncensored pic.twitter.com/hXd2sSEkps
— Piers Morgan Uncensored (@PiersUncensored) June 16, 2022
Lynch replied: “Is that the level we are at? Don’t you want to talk about the issues rather than a little vinyl puppet.”
Once he had dispatched broadcasters, Lynch turned next to politicians.
On BBC Politics Live, Lady Chapman, a shadow Cabinet Office minister, had been put up to defend Keir Starmer’s instruction to frontbenchers not to join RMT picket lines. When Lynch accused Labour politicians of failing to identify with working-class people, Chapman took it personally. Lynch replied: “I don’t even know who you are.”
On the same show Lynch was accused by the Tory MP Jonathan Gullis of undermining the railway network by opposing modernisation and demanding Lynch apologise to passengers. Lynch demanded Gullis apologise for “talking nonsense” and spouting stuff written by Conservative central office.
Jonathan Gullis(Tory MP) - 3% with modernisation is a very good offer..
Mick Lynch(RMT) - Jonathan should apologise for talking nonsense, as none of that is true... I can't settle this dispute with a backbench MP who is just reading of a script. #PoliticsLive pic.twitter.com/BtvF1G2Uj5
— Haggis_UK 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 (@Haggis_UK) June 21, 2022
And on Newsnight, it was the turn of junior minister Chris Philp to flounder in the face of a Lynch onslaught. Lynch accused Philp 15 times of lying about the negotiations.
— UK is with EU (@ukiswitheu) June 20, 2022
By Wednesday night, Lynch put in what was arguably his best TV performance so far, on ITV’s Peston programme. He was widely praised for debunking a number of government attack lines on the strike when he came up against the Tory MP Robert Jenrick.
The former cabinet minister appeared to accuse the RMT of losing 20% of rail passengers. Lynch said: “I haven’t lost them, Covid did. We operated trains all throughout that period.”
“It feels like unions are opposing modernisation”
“You don’t know that, you haven’t been in our position”
Watch @RobertJenrick and Mick Lynch clash over the reasons why @RMTUnion members have been striking on @ITV at 10.45pm#Peston pic.twitter.com/7xcYpbaFHI
— Peston (@itvpeston) June 22, 2022
Undeterred Jenrick said: “We need to encourage those people back. The worst way to do that is by alienating people, going on strike, making their lives much more difficult.”
Lynch’s riposte summed up his case for the strike and his combative approach:
The worst way you could do it is by insisting the fares go up by RPI ripping off the commuters, but you won’t give the workers RPI.
The fares go up by RPI every year. That’s the government regulations.
Last year, profits were made by the train operators – £500m out of that subsidy you gave went to those companies.
First Group and Go Ahead, who we’re negotiating with, are both subject to takeovers from private equity companies.
They’re going to be worth billions because they know you’re going to keep siphoning money from the public purse into private sector operators. Just as you’re doing health, education and care.