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The Policy Ask with Mike Clancy: “Who inspires me? Tony Blair”

The general secretary of Prospect on skills gaps, nuclear power, and why strong principles mean nothing without the ability to win an election.

By Spotlight

Mike Clancy is general secretary of Prospect, the trade union for engineers, managers, scientists and other industry specialists in the UK. The union has more than 150,000 members. Clancy grew up in Liverpool, studied law and became area secretary for the Engineers’ and Managers’ Association, which later merged into Prospect. He also sits on the general council of the Trades Union Congress, the umbrella organisation for 48 unions and 5.5 million workers in Britain.

How do you start your working day?

I check whether Everton are facing any more points deductions, then read the rest of the news on the BBC. I’m usually then off very early into the meetings of the day in London and around. 

What has been your career high?

Becoming general secretary in 2012 of a union representing fascinating people who do fascinating things. 

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

The EU referendum result, and trying to reconcile myself to a democratic decision that could not be further from what I believe in personally. The subsequent years of folly have not made it any easier to comprehend.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?

Do more (or even some) work during my first degree. The privilege of education and study only becomes clearer with maturity.   

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Which political figure inspires you?

No political figure is beyond criticism, but it would still be Tony Blair. Winning power is what matters if you want to have any chance of affecting positive change for people who really need it. Having great principle is just self-indulgence if it is in perpetual opposition.

What UK policy or fund is the government getting right?   

Military support for Ukraine. Global security is in a parlous state and unless democratic nations stand with Ukraine then bad actors like Vladimir Putin will be emboldened. Political leaders of all stripes in Europe and the United States must continue to provide military aid to Ukraine so that democracy prevails over despotism. 

And what policy should the UK government scrap?   

The upcoming increase to minimum earning thresholds for skilled worker visas. Overseas workers play a vital role in filling skills gaps in sectors critical to growing our economy, including research, engineering and technology. Too many roles won’t meet the new thresholds and this will threaten the UK’s standing as a world-leading hub for scientific research and innovation. 

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?  

A final investment decision on Sizewell C. Alongside renewables, nuclear is critical to achieving our clean energy goals, as well as ensuring the UK’s energy security, which is doubly important in the post-Ukraine world. Getting Sizewell C agreed and started is essential to kick-starting nuclear new-build and to creating good, skilled union jobs across the UK.   

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?   

Modern technology is making it harder for people to switch off from work so we should learn from places like Portugal, which is introducing a “right to disconnect”. Prospect has already secured an agreement with the Scottish government covering civil servants there, but I’d like to see it rolled out across the country and for private sector workers too. 

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be? 

Proper sanctions for companies that breach employment law. We have had too many cases recently – companies like P&O Ferries feel free to do what they want safe in the knowledge that they can shoulder the insignificant fines they might face. We need penalties for non-compliance that act as a real deterrent – higher fines, and personal liabilities for bosses breaking the law. 

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