Appetite for Police Commissioners Poll Should Sound Death Knell for Tory Attack on Unions

Mark Serwotka, General secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, in the Huffington Post:

“With only around one in 15 voting for him, he has no authority to write the policing plan, set the local taxation for the police, or be a very powerful figure in the community.”

Poor Angus Macpherson – the Tory candidate who made history by becoming the first ever directly-elected police and crime commissioner in England and Wales – damned by his government’s own policing minister Damian Green before the euphoria of victory had even had time to wane.

Except Green didn’t say this about the Wiltshire election on a turnout of less than 16%, he actually said the measure of success won’t be the turnout, it will be what the commissioners achieve in the coming years. Quite right.

My version of the minister’s quote – actually a hybrid of his condemnation of one of our strike votes earlier this year and his endorsement of the authority imbued through the ballot box – deliberately tells us very little about democracy, but quite a lot about Tory hypocrisy.

While these low turnouts will be debated and analysed, one thing is clear: they should sound the death knell for the ludicrously shrill cries from some quarters of the Tory party and their supporters for greater restrictions on trade union ballots.

You can’t expect to be taken seriously if on the one hand you say unions have no mandate to strike – which will only ever have a short-term effect on the public – while on the other, you champion the democratic right of police commissioners to reshape policing in our communities for years to come.

We would all like to see more people taking part in elections; we need a thriving democracy, where as many as possible get involved and have their say. The real issue is what we do about improving participation across the board.

Tory laws, unrepealed by Labour, restrict union members to a postal vote in strike ballots. This is outdated and reform is long overdue.

We have consistently argued for alternative voting methods. The technology exists for online and phone polling to ensure we maintain the security and independent verification that postal voting provides, and we believe that this could also be extended to the workplace.

So it comes down to this: do the Tories and the government want genuine reform for the better? Or is it just possible that they simply want to prevent union members from exercising their democratic right to withdraw their labour in the face of ideological and unnecessary cuts to their jobs and living standards?


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