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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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.