A SPECTRE is haunting the Tory party leadership contest. The spectre of a politician so many of my fellow Scots, myself included, along with others across the UK, rejected and continue to despise. I’m speaking of course about former Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

I’ve written here before about what Thatcher’s ruinous years in office meant for myself and a generation who back then genuinely believed would not see those times surpassed in our lifetime in terms of political toxicity and the capacity to create division. But now, enter stage right one Liz Truss, the bookies’ favourite to be the UK’s next prime minister.

Much has already been written about Truss’s identification with Thatcher. The cosplay is evident enough, as is a fixation political commentator Chris Deerin described in a newspaper last Sunday as “deeply weird” and being “like a surreal episode of Stars In Their Eyes”.

But Truss’s lookalike obsession is the last thing I’m concerned about. Far more worrying is what the foreign secretary would do policy-wise should she find herself in Downing Street. Truss might be slated for not being the sharpest pencil in the box, but that makes her no less dangerous. As we know all too well from bitter experience, whole swathes of the UK electorate are more than happy to vote for those politicians – smart or not – who play on notions of “British exceptionalism,” or dress up their appeal with talk of “levelling up” while stabbing the same working-class folk in the back. Thatcher was both ruthless and “masterful” at it and Truss seems hell bent on emulating her. There are those who will insist she’s just an intellectual lightweight simply fond of parroting Thatcherite mantras but on the evidence so far, only a fool would rule out the potential threat she poses to democratic rights and values.

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For proof, look no further than Truss’s proposed sweeping anti-trade union legislation. Union bashing and shackling those fighting to protect jobs, living standards and public services is Thatcherism to the core.

It’s worth pausing to remind ourselves of a few vitally important things there. The first is that the right to strike is a fundamental one. The second is that employment laws in the UK are already more restrictive than those in neighbouring countries. Then there’s the devil in the detail of what Truss’s “tough and decisive action” is aiming to do. It would, for instance, introduce tailored minimum thresholds on staffing levels during strikes potentially restricting teachers, postal workers and the energy sector in addition to those already proposed in the Tories’ 2019 minimum service restriction during transport strikes. If Truss has her way, it will also raise the threshold on the number of workers needing to take part in ballots on industrial action as well as putting an end to members receiving tax-free payments from trade unions on the days they are on strike.

What an insult it is that Truss wants to set higher arbitrary ballot barriers for unions when her own party does not have to clear such hurdles when installing a new prime minister.

As for those who point out that perhaps Truss won’t win the leadership contest, it’s worth bearing in mind that her rival Rishi Sunak has called on Labour to stand up against trade unions, insisting “unions cannot dictate how British people go about their daily life”.

Millionaire Sunak, of course, would know all about how ordinary people go about their daily lives as prices rise and making ends meet becomes a growing challenge.

OH, and speaking of Labour, it’s all very well for the Labour Party to say Truss’s timeline for such minimum service plans are unworkable. How many times before have we heard Labour insist such corrosive plans will not happen only to have the Tories dump them on us virtually unchallenged?

With a few admirable exceptions, the silence from Labour and Keir Starmer has been deafening while the opposition leader shamefully still refuses to stand up for the rights of workers and trade unions. Disgraceful as much of the Labour leadership’s silence has been and noisome as the Tories attacks on workers’ rights are, Truss is not for hanging around in getting it done.

Already Truss, the “human hand grenade”, has said that should she become PM at the beginning of September, her government would introduce this raft of anti-trade union legislation in the first 30 days of parliament. Time then is of the essence in mustering the strongest possible opposition to such moves. I’m unequivocally with RTM general secretary Mick Lynch on this after he identified Truss’s proposals as amounting to “the biggest attack on trade union and civil rights since labour unions were legalised in 1871”.

Lynch and fellow trade unionists are justified in their warning that if Truss’s proposals become law, then there should be “the biggest resistance mounted by the entire trade union movement, rivalling the General Strike of 1926, the Suffragettes and Chartism”.

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To some, such warnings might seem fanciful and wishful thinking from a trade union movement that is only a semblance of its former capacity and power. But it would be wrong to underestimate that power even today – not least given that it should have the support of everyone who values the hard-won workers’ rights that our forebears sacrificed so much for.

Thatcher made people angry, and nothing remained untouched by her negative impact and the same can be said if these latest proposed assaults on our freedoms go ahead.

Writing in this column late last year, I made the case that all those of a politically progressive disposition must fight the Tories in much the same unremitting way we did Thatcherism. Back then, tough as it was, we fought that political battle with an urgency, conviction, passion and above all unity.

Only the most politically myopic or naive could fail to recognise that what Truss is proposing to inflict on workers’ rights has brought those times once more upon us. Likewise, once again, we must fight such flagrant attacks on our freedoms on every level and at every turn.