Eric Pickles on the Southampton strike

Image caption Rubbish piling up during the Southampton strike

In the latest week of the Southampton Council strike Labour has been making use of a comment by the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, a man who never hesitates to speak his mind.

Labour and union people like to say, "Even Pickles is telling them to go back to the negotiating table" after a comment he made early on.

So when I bumped into Mr Pickles in a Westminster corridor I thought I'd check the truth of this assertion.

"It's always good to talk," was his reply.

Unions threaten 'Armageddon'

With seven weeks of rubbish now piled up in some parts of the city, and street cleaners sitting at home, was he urging his party colleagues to prepare Plan B? Soften their line? Stop pushing their luck?

Not a bit of it, simply: "It's good to talk."

But didn't he realise that the unions are threatening "Armageddon" next week as they try to shut down the docks, as well as bringing out librarians, social workers and maintenance staff on the same day?

His reply was simple: "Talking's a good thing. Don't you think?"

New deal

There were those who expected the pressure on the Leader of Southampton City Council, Royston Smith, to make him keel over.

In the early weeks the unions stood firm and refused to negotiate unless dismissal notices were withdrawn. The Conservatives made concession after concession.

Many thought Cameron's party would not like the embarrassment of confrontation. That a U-turn would be ordered.

After all, no other councils were trying to cut pay, even in exchange for a smaller number of redundancies.

But now the last staff are signing up to the new deal.

The plan to bring the docks to a halt looks unlikely to happen as unions allow some key workers to carry on.

And one senior Conservative may have the clue to why no-one at Conservative HQ has ordered Royston Smith to pull the plug.

"He's a hero," the cabinet minister told me, referring to the incident involving Royston on the nuclear sub in Southampton docks.

"And a hero can be given a little leeway."

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