Today, July 10th, sees a public sector strike across the country in protest about, well, everything really. It is accompanied by the usual objections about union turnout. What seems to be new this time around, reeking of desperation, are the objections about the timing of mandates.
Francis Maude appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning complaining that the NUT last went to ballot its members two years ago on strike action. Funny that, because I seem to recall the last General Election being two years before that. Is Maude seriously suggesting that before each Bill is put before Parliament, that we need to have a General Election? The answer is obvious, of course he isn’t. The rhetoric employed by every Government since 1979 seems to be that unions must not take decisions that are unpopular with Government, and that Government will change the law about this if necessary.
The biggest and most ridiculous of all of the usual complaints about strikes, as well as being the most frequently employed, is that of turnout. It would appear to be a basic plank of democracy that when a vote is called for, the opportunity to vote is given to all qualified & relevant persons. Those that feel strongly either way will vote, those that don’t may choose not to. The motion is carried by the side with the largest majority. It’s a concept which is simple enough, and fair, and that’s why people have fought for it over the centuries. Why should any other model be applied to trade unions? The fact of the matter is, as Dave Prentis of Unison said on Today this morning too, Unions got a 70% response until the Thatcher government made strike ballots by post a compulsory mechanism. The Tory way with Unions is to tie both their arms behind their backs, challenge them to a fight, and then complain when the Union starts to kick them.
There has been lots of talk about thresholds for strike vote turnout recently. Boris Johnson has weighed in repeatedly (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10074549/Boris-Johnson-Coalition-has-failed-to-bring-in-anti-strike-laws.html) despite his last election victory being based on a 38% turnout. The hypocrisy from the Tories goes even deeper though. In 2012 the “flagship” policy of Police and Crime Commissioners fell flat with voters as “fewer than 15% of voters turned out in the 41 English and Welsh police areas electing a PCC, a peacetime low.” http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-20374139
Surely even the Tories would have to concede that the election of a Police and Crime Commissioner is more significant to the daily business of everyday people, than a single day of strike action by public sector workers?
Even if we ignore the hypocrisy firmly embedded in the Tory argument, if we try to contemplate what would happen if the strike thresholds were introduced, what would that look like? If the threshold was not met, what would happen? Would the vote have to be run again? Would the vote be banned from being run again for a specified time period? Neither seems very attractive.
The other central plank of democracy is that what is good for one is good for all, in that the voting model is common across all systems, whoever they shall benefit. On that basis, let’s imagine what would happen if no politician could be elected without at least a 50% turnout. Every seat in Parliament. Every local Council seat. Suppose in next year’s General Election, half of the seats had a 51% turnout on average, and the other half had a 49% turnout on average. What would Parliament look like then? Presumably the votes would have to be re-run for all seats, so that the votes for the remaining seats weren’t influenced by the outcomes of the first half. Imagine the complaints from elected MPs! Supposing that Parliament was allowed to continue while elections were rescheduled, who would be the Prime Minister while we waited for the other 300+ seats to be decided? This is rather patently a shambles waiting to happen, and equally obviously is why it would never be implemented.
Often, when we see issues being debated in the Commons on TV, the number of members on each side is in single figures. What is the turnout, on average, for legislation in Parliament, and how can we have confidence in these votes when so few members are present to debate the Bill they are voting on?
The big issue, which no politician dare express or verbalise, is that politicians want us to realise that THEY are in charge, and it’s one rule for them and another for the rest of us. They want us to be governed by rules which they would abhor for themselves. Occasionally, this trait is expressed more clearly than others, and Theresa May seems to be the person most likely to leak it. The appointment of Elizabeth Butler-Sloss to head up the inquiry on child abuse within Westminster is a clear example. It must have been harder to find someone so obviously connected to this issue, than it was to find someone with no perceivable link. It was the same when Tom Winsor was appointed the Chief Inspector of HMIC. Winsor had no credible skills or background that made him suitable for the role of Chief Inspector, other than the fact that he had recently written a report – ghost written by Government – that decimated police pay and conditions and infuriated serving officers. The appointment of Winsor was solely to show the police who was in charge. The Butler-Sloss appointment, like Winsor, is a clear two-fingered gesture to the public, and it says “We are in charge. We can do what we like, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”