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.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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