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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John Major's double warning for Theresa May

The former Tory Prime Minister broke his silence with a very loud rebuke. 

A month after the Prime Minister stood in Chatham House to set out plans for free trading, independent Britain, her predecessor John Major took the floor to puncture what he called "cheap rhetoric".

Standing to attention like a weather forecaster, the former Tory Prime Minister warned of political gales ahead that could break up the union, rattle Brexit negotiations and rot the bonds of trust between politicians and the public even further.

Major said that as he had been on the losing side of the referendum, he had kept silent since June:

“This evening I don't wish to argue that the European Union is perfect, plainly it isn't. Nor do I deny the economy has been more tranquil than expected since the decision to leave was taken. 

“But I do observe that we haven't yet left the European Union. And I watch with growing concern  that the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic.”

A seasoned EU negotiator himself, he warned that achieving a trade deal within two years after triggering Article 50 was highly unlikely. Meanwhile, in foreign policy, a UK that abandoned the EU would have to become more dependent on an unpalatable Trumpian United States.

Like Tony Blair, another previous Prime Minister turned Brexit commentator, Major reminded the current occupant of No.10 that 48 per cent of the country voted Remain, and that opinion might “evolve” as the reality of Brexit became clear.

Unlike Blair, he did not call for a second referendum, stressing instead the role of Parliament. But neither did he rule it out.

That was the first warning. 

But it may be Major's second warning that turns out to be the most prescient. Major praised Theresa May's social policy, which he likened to his dream of a “classless society”. He focused his ire instead on those Brexiteers whose promises “are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation of delivery”. 

The Prime Minister understood this, he claimed, but at some point in the Brexit negotiations she will have to confront those who wish for total disengagement from Europe.

“Although today they be allies of the Prime Minister, the risk is tomorrow they may not,” he warned.

For these Brexiteers, the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations did not matter, he suggested, because they were already ideologically committed to an uncompromising version of free trade:

“Some of the most committed Brexit supporters wish to have a clean break and trade only under World Trade Organisation rules. This would include tariffs on goods with nothing to help services. This would not be a panacea for the UK  - it would be the worst possible outcome. 

“But to those who wish to see us go back to a deregulated low cost enterprise economy, it is an attractive option, and wholly consistent with their philosophy.”

There was, he argued, a choice to be made about the foundations of the economic model: “We cannot move to a radical enterprise economy without moving away from a welfare state. 

“Such a direction of policy, once understood by the public, would never command support.”

Major's view of Brexit seems to be a slow-motion car crash, but one where zealous free marketeers like Daniel Hannan are screaming “faster, faster”, on speaker phone. At the end of the day, it is the mainstream Tory party that will bear the brunt of the collision. 

Asked at the end of his speech whether he, like Margaret Thatcher during his premiership, was being a backseat driver, he cracked a smile. 

“I would have been very happy for Margaret to make one speech every eight months,” he said. As for today? No doubt Theresa May will be pleased to hear he is planning another speech on Scotland soon. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.