The Tories would limit strike action. Photo: Getty
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The Tories pledge a 50 per cent strike ballot threshold

The Conservative Party has pledged that if it were to form another government next year, it would ban strikes if less than half of workers back them.

As has been rumbling beneath the surface for a while, the Tories have now pledged to implement a 50 per cent turnout threshold for strikes, alongside a three-month time limit on the duration of industrial action mandates. If the party makes it into office after the next election, it will introduce these measures.

The PoliticsHome website is reporting this morning that the Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told House magazine that the case has been made for these reforms due to unions causing “serious disruption” by “consistently coming again and again, on the basis of very low turnouts, and deciding to call their members out”.

The TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told the same magazine that the proposals are “out of touch” and questioned why there should be “one test of a democratic ballot for trade unions, and an entirely different, easier test for politicians”.

The Lib Dems have blocked these reforms while they’re still in government, but it’s more interesting to see how Labour can respond to such a pledge from the Tories.

The reality is that strike action in recent years in this country has not been devastatingly disruptive, and is also relatively rare. The Tories’ move is an ideological one, and also one that could gain quite a bit of traction with their voters, and perhaps those floating into Ukip territory. It is a politically-driven decision rather than one responding to any walkouts putting the country to a standstill.

This makes Labour’s position more tricky. As although it rightly does not see the case for change in strike laws, it will nevertheless need to respond in a nuanced way to the Conservative party’s pledge. It can’t just attack the Tories on ideological grounds, as it has already made some headway in weakening the influence of the unions over its own party and decision-making.

If it all-out attacks the Tories, it may undermine some of its intentions there, which were forged in such tricky, sensitive circumstances, almost risking “a civil war in the Labour movement”. So Ed Miliband should tread carefully when responding to these plans.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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