THE BLOG
25/02/2015 03:13 GMT | Updated 26/04/2015 06:59 BST

Firefighters' Fury: If the Government Can Lie to Its Own Backbenchers, What Hope for the Rest of Us?

Firefighters in England will begin 24 hours of strike action from 7am on Wednesday in defence of their pensions.

If you've been following this story you'll know that this argument has rumbled along for years now and we have been in an industrial dispute for over eighteen months.

Firefighters have taken over 50 periods of strike action since October 2013. But a recent special conference of the union agreed that we will not be giving up - we carry on.

In a recent spat in the House of Commons fire minister Penny Mordaunt made disparaging remarks about the 'militant wing' of the FBU. If standing up for ourselves and challenging false claims from the government makes us militant, so be it.

We have clearly won the argument in this dispute time and time again - including debates in the House of Commons. It is the utter refusal of Cameron's government to listen to the arguments or take account of the evidence which has made this such a long and bitter industrial dispute.

It seems what ministers really dislike about the FBU is that we refuse to give up, we refuse to go away and we refuse to be quiet. Surely those are qualities the public want to see in their firefighters.

We deal with extremely challenging situations, we stick together - and we don't give up.

Misleading Parliament?

One key argument throughout has been about the fitness requirements of our occupation and whether fitness will tend to decline as we get older. Most readers may think this is not something anyone would argue about.

Unfortunately, for the past three years this government have tried to pretend age makes no difference to fitness levels. They have obviously never watched the Olympics or premiership football.

During a parliamentary debate in December last year Mordaunt gave a guarantee to MPs that a firefighter, over the age of 55, who fails a fitness test through no fault of their own, would receive a redeployed role or a full, unreduced pension.

This guarantee was repeated several times during the debate and subsequently by the secretary of state Eric Pickles in front of the DCLG committee in the House of Commons.

Significantly, it was on the basis of these assurances that the government won the vote in the Commons which introduced the new pension scheme.

A number of Tory and Lib Dem MPs have stated publicly that they voted the way they did precisely because of the assurances Mordaunt gave to the House that day. Let's be clear - they were misled and we have subsequently proved that they were.

Many firefighters took note of the assurances given and took them as a positive step. However, firefighters are not employed by central government but by local fire and rescue services.

So the FBU wrote to all fire authorities to confirm that they would implement this guarantee at local level. It soon became very clear that this wasn't the case.

Fire authorities confirmed they could not and would not guarantee a redeployed role or a full, unreduced pension in the circumstances set out and that any such decision was entirely at their discretion.

This was then confirmed by the full national employers.

Even more alarmingly we found out that the government had been informed that this would be the position by the London Fire Brigade prior to the debate in Parliament. This was also what we had explained to the government for the past two years.

Parliament was misled. The 'guarantee' was used to quell opposition to the plans and to ensure the legislation passed through Parliament.

We have now raised the matter of what was said to MPs with the Prime Minister and with the Speaker of the House of Commons. Will they do anything? We expect them to try to avoid the issue. But we will not let it rest.

Observers of politics in Britain often complain about falling turnouts in elections and worry about the disengagement of the electorate. Firefighters played the game, we lobbied and campaigned. We made our case. We clearly won the argument. But the government whips won the vote on the basis of lies told to their own backbenchers.

Will MPs sit meekly and accept this? If so, they will simply confirm the growing view among many firefighters and millions of others that there is something fundamentally wrong at the heart of our political system.

And by the way, we're not giving up and we're not going away.