UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

I’m relatively ‘Chillaxed’ about a ‘democratic threshold’ but it should be for everyone

On the face of it the requirement to have 50% of the vote, or a turn out of 50% as a minimum before representative action can be legitimately determined, may seem like a reasonable standpoint, however it poses some serious questions for the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’.

The Prime Minister has eventually succumbed to the lobbying of the most aggressive anti-trade unionists in his party and the Conservative manifesto for 2015 will include a pledge to impose a minimum threshold of 50% for all future trade union ballots on industrial action.

The Prime Ministers belief in such democratic thresholds does not extend to Parliament’s own democratic processes though and this is where it is revealed as merely an attempt to stop the legitimate withdrawal of labour.

In 2010, the UK electorate was 45,533,536 of which 29,594,798 voted in the General Election. Of those who voted only 23.4% voted for the Conservatives and only 15% for the Liberal Democrats. Although no one at all actually voted for a Coalition Government the combined total for both ruling parties falls short of 50% at 38.4%. 35% of people decided to abstain from voting for any party and constitute the single largest group.

In addition, only 19% of the eligible London electorate voted for Boris Johnson and many Police and Crime Commissioners and MEPs were elected on turnouts below 10% or thereabouts.

If the Prime Minister’s vigilance for democratic legitimacy existed in 2010 less than a handful of MPs would currently sit in the House, London would have no Mayor, there would be no PCCs and council chambers across the land would be empty.

Few people know that legislation can be passed in the Commons by only 40 MPs out of 650; which equates to only 6%; and by 30 in the Lords, which has no fixed number but is currently about 770. A legitimate debate in the Commons requires the presence of only one MP and the Speaker.

For politicians to hold up a strict and almost moralistic measure to other organisations, such as Trade Unions, which it cannot adhere to itself is, perhaps, not surprising. Nevertheless, by stating that there is a requirement for a democratic threshold, the Prime Minister has released the Genie from the bottle and he may find it tricky to coax back in again.

Ultimately, I am reasonably ‘chillaxed’ about the principal of a ‘Democratic Threshold’. Whereas I do not think it is a requirement I also believe that the very nature of Trade Unions as fighting, democratic organisations, means that we will adapt and focus on driving up member engagement and perhaps more focus should be on that anyway. I wonder if the same can be said for many of our political representatives and I look forward to the brave political leader who argues that British democracy must also be measured by the same criteria they wish to use against others.

Andy Stankard