Conservative Diary

Strikes and unions

9 Jul 2013 08:26:43

At root, Miliband's Party problem is our problem too

Screen shot 2013-07-09 at 07.54.56
By Paul Goodman
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Ed Miliband displays what child psychiatrists call a "pattern of behavior".  Confronted with a problem he can no longer avoid, he moves late and does little, a response that voters have seen again and again.  First on immigration, then on welfare, then on borrowing, he has half-closed the door on Labour's respective problems - wanting to let in lots of immigrants, soak taxpayers for lots of welfare, and borrow lots of money on the never-never - thereby inviting his left and the unions to push it open again.  "Weak weak weak" comes the cry and the briefings from Downing Street and CCHQ, and they are as right as they are repetitious.

His speech today on Labour and the unions offers more of the same.  No-one anywhere - not Polly Toynbee, not Owen Jones, not Laurie Penny - believes he would be making it were he not in a hole and trying to dig himself out.  It follows that the proposals in his speech won't have been thought through, and that as an answer to Labour's problems it will only pose further questions.  These will duly be asked by Grant Shapps, Dan Hodges, this site and many others, keeping the Unite story on TV and in the headlines as the summer days stretch gloriously on.

Continue reading "At root, Miliband's Party problem is our problem too" »

4 Jun 2013 13:29:01

If the Tory leadership wants to restore trust in politics, they should avoid playing politics over the unions

By Peter Hoskin
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“Beyond cynical.” “Shabby and panicked.” “The height of hypocrisy.” The red corners of the Internet are turning even redder, today, at the Tory leadership’s attempt to wrap unions in with their response to the lobbying scandal.

And dyaknow what? They might have a point. Putting aside the question of whether a lobbying register will do much good – Paul Goodman argued earlier that it won’t – there is something cynical about this plan to couple it with limitations on union spending at general elections, and with tighter audits of union memberships. It appears to be a political ploy above anything else. So that when Labour decline to agree with the overall package, they can be maligned as a bunch of pro-lobbyist corruptocrats who are blocking the change we need, yadda, yadda, yadda. And, in the meantime, nothing is actually fixed.

Continue reading "If the Tory leadership wants to restore trust in politics, they should avoid playing politics over the unions" »

6 Oct 2012 08:44:57

Cameron focuses on NHS at start of his "no turning back" Conference

By Tim Montgomerie
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Abortion: Day one of the Downing Street grid for party conference week did not have "abortion row" written on it but that's what Cameron has got. New Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has repeated his view that abortion should be restricted to a 12 week limit. This is what he has supported and voted for in the past. He has repeated that view in an interview with this morning's Times (£). The Today programme is leading on the issue this morning. I can hear the groaning from inside Number 10.

NHS: What Team Cameron wanted the media to be focused upon was Cameron's restatement of his commitment to the NHS. At a Tory Conference six years ago, Mr Cameron - seeking to emulate Tony Blair - suggested that his priorities were not three words but three letters: N-H-S. In opposition he erased Labour's advantage on the NHS. It was probably the Tory modernisers' single biggest political accomplishment. All that has sadly been reversed because of the NHS Bill controversy. In the start of a fightback Mr Cameron writes for the Daily Mail, restating his personal commitment to the health service's values and also promising a new £140 million fund to tackle the red tape that entangles nurses and doctors. The 'NHyes' campaign is about to be relaunched by the party.

Europe: Tory supporters wanting a more Eurosceptic party leadership in Birmingham look likely to be disappointed. The Foreign Secretary gives an interview to The Daily Telegraph in which he appears to downplay the possibility of a referendum on Britain's future relationship with the EU. He implies that the "fresh consent" referred to by David Cameron last week could easily mean a general election mandate. "I haven’t seen anything as Foreign Secretary that shows we should be leaving the European Union,” Mr Hague tells the newspaper. “I see many difficulties, I deal with hundreds of them every day but I support being in the single market …I remain a supporter of our membership of the EU.”

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16 Sep 2012 08:35:29

Boris Johnson features in ConHome's biggest ever Party Conference programme... and calls for tougher strike laws

By Tim Montgomerie
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Johnson Boris Pointing 2

Boris Johnson will be the headline star of ConservativeHome's biggest ever Party Conference programme this year. We'll publish full details of that programme tomorrow but other speakers include Nicola Blackwood, Graham Brady, Janet Daley, David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Fallon, Michael Gove, William Hague, Robert Halfon, Richard Harrington, Sajid Javid, Patrick McLoughlin, Andrew Mitchell, Jesse Norman, John Redwood, Grant Shapps and Kay Swinburne.

Boris speaks at 6pm INSIDE THE SECURE ZONE on Monday evening. It will be the third year in a row that the Mayor of London will have been the guest of honour at ConHome's Conference rally. If you are going to Birmingham please ink the time in your diary. We are planning a big celebration of Boris' re-election and of an "Olympotastic" year.

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14 Aug 2012 06:51:48

Relaxation of Sunday trading will upset churchgoers, family campaigners and a good number of Tory MPs

By Tim Montgomerie
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When the Government first flirted with the idea of relaxing Sunday trading laws my colleague Paul Goodman was very unimpressed. Is this the most anti-Christian government in British history?, he asked. But it's not just churchgoers who don't like the idea. By 52% to 36% most Britons oppose further deregulation of Sunday opening.

OpensundayFurther deregulation does enjoy the support of some leading business groups, however. On yesterday's Today programme Mark Wallace of the Institute of Directors was making the case for the relaxation of Sunday trading laws to be made permanent, following its temporary introduction for the course of the Olympic and Paralympic games. The Government has promised to consider whether the experiment served to boost the retail economy.

George Osborne and Eric Pickles are said to be sympathetic to a permanent extension of opening hours but opposition from the Liberal Democrats and from some Tory backbenchers is likely to scupper any change. Philip Johnston reminds Telegraph readers that, in 1986, Margaret Thatcher's majority of 140 was overturned by Tory MPs opposed to her plan for complete deregulation of Sunday trading. It was the most effective and biggest rebellion of her time as Prime Minister. Today's Tory leadership does not need another clash with its Coalition partners and own backbench.

Continue reading "Relaxation of Sunday trading will upset churchgoers, family campaigners and a good number of Tory MPs" »

25 Jul 2012 08:29:21

The PCS union may have given the government the excuse it needs to reform strike laws

By Peter Hoskin
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Much ado, this morning, about the prospect of industrial action during the Olympics — and particularly about the strike, choreographed by Mark Serwotka’s Public and Commercial Services Union, that is due to take Heathrow’s immigration and customs officials away from their desks tomorrow. There is even talk that that the Home Office will go to court in order to stop it.

Continue reading "The PCS union may have given the government the excuse it needs to reform strike laws" »

16 Jun 2012 08:58:57

Andrew Lansley wants GPs to make up for upcoming strike by working next weekend

By Matthew Barrett
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Lansley2The Guardian reports this morning that the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has a plan to help conquer the huge backlog of patients - up to 1.25 million - denied an appointment next Thursday thanks to the first doctors' strike since 1975. Mr Lansley wants doctors to work next Saturday, to help prevent the backlog being carried over for weeks after the strike.

Mr Lansley's letter to the chairman of the BMA, Hamish Meldrum, says:

"As GPs are self-employed, I would also ask your members who are GPs that they consider working on Saturday 23 June to clear the backlog of appointments they will have created by their action on 21 June. As you know, the action GPs will take could potentially displace up to 1.25m appointment bookings in primary care into the days and weeks following your strike – including appointments for some 140,000 children."

Mr Lansley has also warned that hospitals may have to postpone up to 30,000 planned operations, 58,000 diagnostic tests and over 200,000 outpatient appointments. This new letter to the BMA claims that 1,350 people waiting to have a cataract removed, and 700 elderly patients needing a hip or knee replacement will be disrupted by the strike.

There is, as with every letter from a Minister to a union leader such as this one, a veneer of practicality masking a political attack. Mr Lansley knows the impact of the strike is not likely to be quite as drastic as that - those who voted against the strike are still set to turn up to work on Thursday, and the BMA only represents two-thirds of doctors in the first place, and even some of the doctors on strike will be at their surgeries, and are likely to see some patients, according to a leading doctor quoted by the Guardian. However, it is still right that Mr Lansley makes the gesture of telling doctors to make up for their strike action. 

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30 May 2012 16:30:47

Andrew Lansley is right to reform doctors' pensions

By Matthew Barrett
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Today's announcement that the doctors will strike for the first time in 40 years has, understandably, caused a brouhaha. The British Medical Association balloted doctors, and found 79% of GPs, 84% of hospital consultants and 92% of junior doctors who responded, voted in favour of a one-day strike on 21st June. To offer some fairness to the BMA, turnout in the ballot was apparently 51%, so the usual low-turnout union vote charges cannot be made, and they had the good sense not to have their emergency doctors go on strike. However, the NHS will clearly be horribly affected. 

It's worth taking a look at why the BMA has seen fit to go on strike. At present, the average consultant retiring at 60 will receive a pension of over £48,000 a year for life, and a tax free lump sum of around £143,000, which equates to a pension of nearly £2 million. Even under Andrew Lansley's new proposals, a doctor can expect a pension of over £53,000 at age 65, and will remain amongst the best-paid workers in the public sector.

Lansley.ashxAndrew Lansley's argument for reform is that new arrangements are necessary, because people live longer. Now, for example, a doctor retiring at 60 can expect 29 years of retirement. This means they will draw a pension for nearly as long as they worked for the NHS - 36 years. In contrast, a doctor retiring at 60 in 1984 could only expect to live for 20 years after retirement, yet 1984's doctor, and the doctor of today would have paid similar amounts into their pension, but the extra 9 years cost approximately £440,000 to the taxpayer.

Continue reading "Andrew Lansley is right to reform doctors' pensions" »

1 Apr 2012 11:24:45

William Hague says the Government will be seen as "in touch" if it reforms welfare and education

By Matthew Barrett
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Hague Non-PlussedThe first big-hitter to be interviewed properly about the terrible headlines of the past few days was William Hague, who appeared on the Andrew Marr Show earlier this morning. The Foreign Secretary was first asked about Francis Maude's handling of the fuel strike situation:

"It has been a controversial week is the way I would put it but that happens in the life of government. Those things certainly happen and we have seen that on many, many previous occasions and over many governments including very successful governments. So I don't think we should be phased or deterred by that. Yes some things have been happening that the government has had to face up to. Of course there has been the threatened fuel tanker strike. I think [how] my colleagues have handled these things would have been criticised either way had they not set out the precautions that people should take and alerted people to the situation. Then if a strike took place in the coming weeks it would be said that they had been complacent and hadn't prepared the country. The country is in a better state of preparedness than it was a week ago in the eventuality of a petrol tank strike, so I think they have handled that correctly. But of course controversies arise over things like that."

Importantly, Mr Hague hinted that the Government is still preparing for a strike - despite the fact ACAS talks begin on Monday:

"Well I am saying, as I said on the business of fuel supplies, I think ministers would have been criticised either way. My colleagues have done absolutely the right thing to urge people to take sensible precautions and I think they will be vindicated by events of the coming."

Continue reading "William Hague says the Government will be seen as "in touch" if it reforms welfare and education" »

31 Mar 2012 08:56:44

If Ministers wish to confront the unions, tanker drivers are not the right way to do it

By Matthew Barrett
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Petrol station panicToday's news is filled with stories about the fuel crisis (or non-crisis). The pattern of stories is as follows: Ministers told the public to stock up on petrol. So they did. But it turns out the strike was never a sure thing, there had simply been ballot action urging a strike. So now we've all got more petrol than we needed, and we needn't have bothered anyway. Or something along those lines.

But Charles Moore's Daily Telegraph column - as is often the case - contains a passage that should make Conservatives question this fuel strike story:

"When I first heard Francis Maude’s suggestion on Sky News that we might all stock up “a bit of extra fuel with a jerry can in the garage”, I did not, I must admit, panic. His remark seemed a little unwise – and you could hear, by the way he immediately began to qualify it, that he thought so too – but I let it pass... But now that I have heard the Conservatives’ private explanation, which is being handed down to constituency associations by MPs, I begin to feel angry. The private message is as follows. “This is our Thatcher moment. In order to defeat the coming miners’ strike, she stockpiled coal. When the strike came, she weathered it, and the Labour Party, tarred by the strike, was humiliated. In order to defeat the coming fuel drivers’ strike, we want supplies of petrol stockpiled. Then, if the strike comes, we will weather it, and Labour, in hock to the Unite union, will be blamed.”"

As Moore goes on to point out, the difference between the two situations is that Mrs Thatcher's government built up coal reserves. They did not simply urge the public to go out and buy coal in the hope enough would be panic-bought to weather the storm. Moore concludes with this point: "In 2012, the Coalition is trying to press-gang the public, without saying so, into its political battles. All those people queuing on the forecourts were pawns in a Government-organised blame-game."

Continue reading "If Ministers wish to confront the unions, tanker drivers are not the right way to do it" »