Workers at Unilever's Port Sunlight factory picket outside the main gates of the factory on the Wirral, Merseyside. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron backs plan to ban strikes without 50% turnout

PM confirms the policy, championed by Boris Johnson, will appear in the next Conservative manifesto.

David Cameron used most of his interview on the Marr show to do what he once urged his party not to do: "bang on" about Europe. But after being given free rein to outline his EU renegotiation plan, he did provide a story. Asked whether he supported the introduction of a turnout threshold for strike action, a proposal championed by Boris Johnson, he confirmed that the policy would appear in the next Conservative manifesto. 

He said: "I think in these essential services, like the London Underground, the pain caused to people trying to get to work and trying to help their families by these strikes, which are often supported by a relatively small percentage...I think it’s hugely damaging and so I think the time has come for setting thresholds in strike ballots in essential services. It’s not something I can achieve in a coalition government. It’s something that will be in our manifesto."

Although Cameron did not specify a threshold, the plan would likely mean the banning of strikes when fewer than half of all trade union members vote (just 30 per cent of all RMT members took part in the most recent ballot). 

It is one that Labour, unsurprisingly, opposes. Ed Miliband told the Evening Standard earlier this week: "I’m personally not convinced of the case for it. I think a better way forward is to say, look, let’s build good relations. Let me make a point on this: we have elections and we don’t have a threshold for turnout for elections. There are other ways to build good relations." Labour MPs and trade unions frequently point out that Boris Johnson wouldn't have been elected (or re-elected) London mayor under the turnout rule. Just 45 per cent voted in the 2008 mayoral election and just 38 per cent in the 2012 contest.

But while the Lib Dems have not endorsed the policy, I would not be surprised if they agreed to it as part of a second coalition agreement with the Tories. Ed Davey, for instance, a close ally of Nick Clegg, recently said that the proposal was "worth looking at". More broadly, many Lib Dems, including Clegg, generally loathe the unions due to the funding they provide to Labour. 

Update: Here's how TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady has responded to Cameron's announcement. 

“Workers in Britain already face the toughest barriers to taking action to defend their living standards of any almost any advanced democracy. This has helped turn our country into one of the most unequal where billionaires co-exist with food banks.

“The Prime Minister now wants to make industrial action even more difficult. This shows his readiness to take the side of employers and big business against ordinary working people as his party's backwoodsmen call the shots.

“With workers facing the biggest and longest cut in their living standards since Victorian times and growing insecurity at work, we need policies to boost incomes, create decent jobs and give people a real say at work, not this return to Thatcherite nostrums.”

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.