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Wednesday, July 15, 2015 

The Tories' new settlement: much the same, just even more dickish.

Following the budget, George Osborne boasted of what he described as "the new settlement".  A pay rise, but only once the wasteful merry-go-round of tax credits had been curtailed.  A budget for the workers, but only for those the Tories deem to be workers.  If you claim any sort of in work benefits, you're not a worker.  If you work in the public sector, you're not a worker.  And if you're a trade union member, regardless of whether you work in the public or private sector, you're also not a worker.

Sajid Javid could not have made this any clearer in his comments on the Trade Union Bill.  "Trade unions have a constructive role to play in representing their members’ interests but our one-nation government will balance their rights with those of working people and business," he said.  Working people simply cannot be trade unionists.  Trade unions cannot have the same interests as working people.  Such is the Tories' new settlement.  Think you knew divide and rule before?  They haven't even got started yet.

If the motives behind the Tory attempt to define Labour as the party of welfare rather than work and to make striking as difficult as possible are obvious and ever so slightly more calculated.  To start with, if they hadn't been tipped off to it before, the near 4 million votes for UKIP at the election have alerted them to the benefits of acting like an entitled bunch of shits just for the sake of it.  Do things that are utterly pointless, even self-defeating, but which appeal to those who are very much impressed by such things, especially if they involve active cruelty or harm to people they detest.  Why else would the Tories have tried to "reform" the ban on fox hunting, which has never been any such thing?  It's not going to win them any extra votes; they're already more than sown up.

Attacking the trade unions then serves multiple purposes.  It appeals to all those people who complain as though their lives will never be the same as a result of a single day of industrial action, having to cycle to work instead of taking the tube the equivalent of being waterboarded.  All but needless to add, it's also completely unnecessary: the number of working days lost to strike action remains historically low, in spite of the huge amount of job losses in the public sector post-2010, with more still come, not to forget continuing wage restraint.  Trade unions are however one of the few vehicles for opposition to austerity and the government, even if said opposition has not exactly led to a change of policy.  The less effective unions are, the fewer members they will have, and in turn the less money likely to go towards funding the Labour party.  The mooted change to the political levy, asking all members if they want to pay it regardless of whether their union is affiliated to Labour or not is nothing less than a direct attack on the party's existence.  The Tories are not satisfied with Labour's current enfeebled state, without a clue as to where to position itself; they want to destroy it utterly.

Except in its current form the bill is almost certain not to pass.  Having been forced to row back on votes on English votes for English laws (EVEL), the Human Rights Act and yesterday a simple free vote on an amendment to the Hunting Act, the chances of getting it through parliament, let alone the Lords are slim.  A bill as draconian as this is hardly going to sit well with the moderate Tories, nor is it guaranteed the Democratic Unionists will support it, lack of DUP support for EVEL having lead the government to postpone the legislation until at least September.  If the Tories did somehow manage to get it through the Commons without concessions, they might just be able to get away with using the Parliament Act to bypass the Lords as imposing a threshold on participation in strike ballots was in their manifesto, ala the Salisbury convention, but only at a second attempt.

Not that this may matter much in the end, bearing in mind how the vote on fox hunting was abandoned.  In an act of the utmost cynicism and opportunism, the SNP made clear it would vote against the amendment, regardless of how it would all but bring the English law into line with the Scottish one.  Nicola Sturgeon justified the SNP breaking its usual rule of not voting on English only matters on the grounds David Cameron had not shown enough respect to the party on the day of its daughter's wedding "party's mandate".  The only plausible response to this ought to be "aw, diddums", but it's difficult to mock when the SNP and Tories are so clearly set on fracturing the union and stuffing Labour at the same time, such have been the tit for tat manoeuvres on EVEL and now hunting.

It took some chutzpah for Mhairi Black to then "reach out a genuine hand of friendship" to Labour in her unbelievably overrated maiden speech, the reaction to which seems more attributable to the dog walking on its hind legs principle than due to its actual quality.  If that's barnstorming, I sure wouldn't want to see barn-entering.  Black of course knows full well there is no chance whatsoever of a relationship she neither expects nor wants, such are the wounds that have been left by the independence referendum, not so much the election result.  Nor is there any point to opposition for opposition's sake: if she and the SNP want to waste their time trooping through the same lobby as Bill Cash in an attempt to defeat the government on a motion that would have made winning a referendum to stay in the EU that bit harder, that's up them.  Such though is the way otherwise pointless acts have come to mean something to SNP supporters and those who see themselves as ignored and discriminated against alike; such is the way Labour is being squeezed from both sides, unable to find a way to escape from the closing trap.

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