It's a measure of how rattled the Lib Dems are about the prospect of resistance to the government's planned austerity programme that Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had this to say today in a speech to the party's conference in Liverpool:
I've been around long enough to know that a politician who uses that dreadful word "empowering" and pledges to "listen" - to those who manage to survive the government's plans to decimate public services, presumably - is lying through his teeth. But Alexander's union-bashing includes a recognition within government circles that millions of union members with little to lose have the collective capacity to stop the government from making ideologically driven cuts. This is obviously the reason why one of the Coalition's favourite think-tanks, the Policy Exchange, has suddenly raised the idea of further restrictions on workplace rights and the breaking up of large trade unions.
And I would like to say one thing to nurses, teachers, police officers, civil servants. Thank you. Your ideas, your effort, your commitment are essential to helping people get the best from the services you provide. The next few years will be tough, very tough for some. But I also believe that the changes we make - empowering you, trusting you, listening to you will make the public services a more rewarding place to work.
I know there are a minority in the trade unions who will deliberately misrepresent what this government stands for because they are spoiling for a fight. Please don't allow their political motivations to push you into doing the wrong thing for the country.
We do not want to take you on. We want to take you with us.
The ConDem government clearly isn't that worried about Labour, whose leadership candidates show little interest in supporting an anti-cuts movement. But they are nervous about what ordinary nurses, teachers and other public sector workers decide to do to defend themselves, which as we await with trepidation the October Spending Review is actually rather heartening. The government thinks it can be stopped - now we need to start believing it ourselves.