Cable dismisses "bonkers" unfair dismissal plans

Coalition tension over the Beecroft report continues.

The coalition tensions over proposals for “no fault dismissal” are still rumbling on, with the Business Secretary Vince Cable vowing to fight the “bonkers” plans by venture capitalist and Conservative donor Adrian Beecroft.

The Beecroft proposals were first floated back in October. The businessman was commissioned by Downing Street to look at ways of increasing productivity and efficiency for small businesses. One suggestion was to scrap unfair dismissal rules, which he said were having a “terrible impact” on the “efficiency and hence competitiveness of our businesses”.

The full report is set to be published this week, but has already been leaked to the Daily Telegraph. Proposals include stopping the planned spread of flexible working, and scrapping planned equal pay audits.

Despite the fact that the report has not yet been officially made public, it has been the subject of intense Whitehall negotiations for months. Back in November, my colleague Rafael Behr reported:

Cable has agreed to "look at the evidence". Some Tories are suspicious that this is a Lib Dem ruse to kick Beecroft into the long grass. David Cameron is known to have a short attention span and the suspicion is that, once the Autumn Statement on the economy is out of the way and some other big events have come along to distract the prime minister - as is inevitable - the fire-at-will idea can be quietly shelved. This, some Tories mutter, is a classic Lib Dem tactic in the coalition.

However, seven months later, it has not panned out as the Liberal Democrats hoped, with Cameron saying he will examine the idea of no fault dismissal. “I am interested in anything that makes it easier for one person to say to another person: ‘Come and work for me’. We need to examine every proposal,” he said in Chicago this weekend.

Cable is said to be surprised that Cameron is not distancing himself, given that Beecroft is a major Tory donor and there have been rumblings over cash buying influence. The Business Secretary has said that the proposals have no evidential base.

Yet many Tory MPs support the Beecroft proposals, as a radical way of injecting growth into the economy. Floundering on the economy and keen to shore up support within his own party, it makes sense that Cameron is listening – but it is a balancing act, as pushing through such controversial measures would cement the "nasty party" image that the Prime Minister has done so much to work against. As Liberal Democrat opposition galvanises, it remains to be seen who will be victorious in the Battle of Beecroft.
 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.