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MP brands FBU officials 'idiots'

PUBLISHED: 03:02 22 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:12 24 February 2010

AN EAST Anglian MP inflamed the bitter fire dispute yesterday by branding FBU officials a "bunch of idiots".

Shadow Defence Secretary and North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin also called on ministers to outlaw the strike in the run-up to potential war with Iraq, claiming that demands for emergency cover during strikes "is throwing the armed forces into a crisis".

AN EAST Anglian MP inflamed the bitter fire dispute yesterday by branding FBU officials a "bunch of idiots".

Shadow Defence Secretary and North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin also called on ministers to outlaw the strike in the run-up to potential war with Iraq, claiming that demands for emergency cover during strikes "is throwing the armed forces into a crisis".

He said: "We know that the fire cover is interrupting front line training of units that are going to go and fight a war."

He had sparked an angry reaction yesterday when asked in a radio interview what his message to the FBU was.

His reponse was: "You are a bunch of idiots frankly and you are a disgrace to your country."

FBU general secretary Andy Gilchrist demanded that Mr Jenkin should apologise or be sacked, pointing out that many firefighters were ex-servicemen and women who had served in previous conflicts.

Others were reservists who were being called up because of the possible war with Iraq - one firefighter left the picket line in Tayside, Scotland, yesterday to be measured up for his military uniform.

"These insulting remarks have caused fury and anger. Iain Duncan Smith should demand that Bernard Jenkin withdraws his remarks and apologise or sack him."

Speaking to the East Anglian Daily Times last night, Mr Jenkin said: "I am currently sympathetic to firefighters' concerns about fair pay and conditions but this strike is not the way to proceed - particularly as they are paid more than the soldiers who are on the Green Goddesses.

"The Government is not going to open the flood gates to more money and the union is cruelly misrepresenting its workers."

He claimed many firefighters knew the strike was hopeless and reiterated his earlier claim that it was a case of "lions being led by donkeys".

The row erupted during the latest 24-hour stoppage of the fire strike.

Paul Woolstenholmes, secretary of the Suffolk Fire Brigade Union, said picket lines at both Ipswich Fire Station in Princes Street and at fire headquarters in Colchester Road had stopped last night.

Firefighters instead demonstrated their cause throughout the day in Ipswich town centre.

He said: "Unfortunately we have never known such a hatred of a trade union than the one by this Government.

"The opposition are calling us a disgrace to this country. This is one of the hardest things to do, for good firefighters to withdraw their labour. This is absolutely the last resort.

"Clearly this Government has shown it's true colours. They are not interested in fair pay. They want to decimate the service from what it is today. How can that lead to a safer fire service?"

"We will carry on our campaign for a fair and just level of pay until out members suggest otherwise."

The defiant message from striking firefighters at the Parkway station in Bury St Edmunds yesterday was "we won't lose".

Firefighter Matt Hassey said: "It is a fair and just fight. But it is not just about pay anymore.

"We cannot afford to lose this. The Government want to cut the service and if we lose the public will have a worse fire service.

"We believe we should modernise but we shouldn't have to cut the service," Mr Hassey said.

Mr Hassey said public support for their cause had not waned as the dispute dragged-out.

He believed the one-day industrial action, as opposed to last year's eight-day strike, may have been a factor in the continued support.

Mr Hassey said the on-going nature of the firefighters' row with the Government had resulted in wide-spread disillusionment among his colleagues.

"We feel let down by the Government. Everyone hates being on strike but we have to keep the pressure up."

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