Cameron prepares to go to war with the trade unions

Is the Prime Minister planning a Thatcher-style assault on organised labour?

There was once a time when David Cameron was keen to win over the trade union movement. He became the first Conservative leader in more than a decade to meet the TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber and even appointed a union emissary -- the former Labour MEP Richard Balfe -- to spearhead secret negotiations with "the brothers".

But this was in 2008, when Cameron still spoke cheerily of "sharing the proceeds of growth" (the Tories, as much as Labour, failed to see the crash coming) and was still committed to Gordon Brown's spending plans.

Now, as he prepares to implement a series of savage cuts, in which some departments will be cut by up to 33 per cent, Cameron is planning to make Britain's strike laws -- already some of the most restrictive in the western world -- even tougher.

Today's Times reports: "Ministers have held confidential talks over changing union strike laws as the government prepares plans to shed up to a million public-sector jobs."

The changes under discussion include raising the proportion of workers required to vote for a strike before it takes place. As things stand, only a simple majority of voters is required but the government is considering introducing a minimum turnout threshold of 40 per cent.

The Times's Sam Coates adds: "The government is also under pressure from senior business figures to change the rules to replace striking workers with agency employees, to reduce the time before they can be dismissed without reballoting from 12 to eight weeks -- and even to make unions legally liable for the consequences of strikes."

It is understandable that Cameron wishes to avoid a wave of strikes, but he should do so by making a persuasive case for cuts rather than changing the rules of the game. Downing Street may say that the coalition has "no plans" to change strike legislation, but that's the same formulation as Cameron used when asked about a possible VAT rise.

That the Tories are in coalition with the Lib Dems, who have never had much affection for the trade unions, in many ways makes a Thatcher-style assault more achievable. But for now, I'd say the coalition has enough on its hands without triggering a war with the unions.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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