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.

Photo: Getty
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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.