Sunday, 16 January 2011

Cameron's Glass is Half-Empty

I must begin this post with a simple acknowledgement: there has been so much to write about this week and I have been lapse. Large swathes of Australia, Sri Lanka and Brazil are underwater thanks to flash flooding, with hundreds of lives being lost and entire communities disappearing into the swell. In Tunisia, discontent among the population, inflamed by politically-motivated violence, has seen the loss of many lives and the fall of the government. These are the things that International Officers should write about. The outcome of the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election looks a little unimportant in comparison.

My mind is stuck firmly in the domestic however, as both Red Ed and David Macaroon have put the boot firmly into trade unions this week. Ed Miliband (who, lets not forget, is only in his current role thanks to trade union support) has said that he is 'appalled' at the idea of strikes upsetting the Royal Wedding celebrations. Implicit within that comment is the suggestion that he is happy for downtrodden workers to continue to be treated appallingly by uncaring employers as long as one of the richest institutions in Britain is allowed to continue its activities unimpeded. But enough of Ed, who is a dull, uninspiring and hopefully short-lived alternative to our current unpalatable coalition leaders.

More intriguingly, David Cameron has indicated that he would like to change the law making it even harder for unions to take strike action. The prime minister has suggested he could look at the law on industrial action, amid calls for strike ballots to be unlawful if under half of a union's membership takes part.

There is a mischievous, nay evil, part of me that thinks maybe this wouldn't be so bad. It might make currently disaffected workers more militant, make complacent union officials work harder and generally inspire more activity than it suppresses. But it is still an attack on trade union institutions, and it is worth drawing a parallel with our current democratic process.

In that same Oldham and Saddleworth by-election mentioned earlier, the turnout was 48%, a huge reduction from the last time it was polled. I suspect this has a lot to do with local people becoming disenfranchised from the tie-wearing, public-school toffs who claim to represent them in government. The political parties cited 'rain' as being the reason behind the reduction. Seriously? Do they even live in the same climate as the rest of the UK?

The keen-eyed observer will note that 48% by-election turnout is below the minimum-required 50% turnout that a trade union ballot would need to be legal under the proposed changes. If we take Cameron's suggestion to its logical conclusion, why not make the outcome of the by-election illegal too? Local voters are clearly too disaffected to desire any involvement in our democracy or be able to make reasoned decisions about who should represent them. It would be a deserving punishment for failing to engage with any of the increasingly homogenous cardboard cut-outs that pass for political leaders in the modern UK.

Or maybe the rain is to blame for that, too.

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