The Tories would limit strike action. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496