It’s hard to avoid mention of the firemen’s strike and all its nostalgic echoes. On the face of it, the whole thing demonstrates the extreme difficulty of negotiating a durable settlement of a dispute when those conducting the negotiations don’t have the power to make binding commitments because the ultimate decision is in the hands of the central government which, being neither the employer nor the union, plays no direct part in the negotiations. Both sides in those negotiations seem to have conducted them with surprising incompetence, with the union sticking doggedly to demands which the lowliest rookie fire-fighter must have known were obviously unachievable, while resolutely resisting proposals for manifestly essential reforms to their arcane working practices; and the employers making random but sweeping concessions in the middle of the night, just hours before the second and longer strike was about to start, and then demanding in a telephone call to the Deputy Prime Minister in the small hours of the morning that the government pick up the unquantified bill for an agreement which the unfortunate Mr Prescott hadn’t even seen. To cap it all, the union thereupon decided to go ahead, a couple of hours later, with the strike, instead of suspending it until ministers had had a chance to read the proposed agreement, do the sums to determine the implications for the taxpayer, discuss it with the employers and perhaps with the union, and come to a decision. To blame the government for this chapter of blunders does seem "a bit rich", as MPs say when their adversaries advance some impertinent proposition. But the government seems to be in a phase where nothing is going right and they get the blame for everything.