Trade unions would be able to hold online ballots before strikes and to elect their leaders under plans drawn up by Vince Cable, the Business Secretary. The Liberal Democrat cabinet minister, who is responsible for union laws, has repeatedly blocked Conservative proposals to prevent strikes after low turnouts in postal ballots. The Tory manifesto at the May election is expected to include a pledge to ban strikes if unions fail to win the support of 40 per cent of their members.
Mr Cable believes “e-balloting” is the best way to boost turnout in union votes. His department will set up an expert task force, including unions and balloting companies. It will not report until after the election but its proposals could be taken up by the next government.
The move could spell the end of the union postal ballot, one of several measures brought in by Margaret Thatcher’s Government to curb union power. The change would require legislation.
Mr Cable said: “We currently enjoy some of the best industrial relations in a generation, with overall strike days at an all-time low. Unions have been central to our economic recovery by keeping employees flexible, so we could keep Britain working. “
The Business Secretary added: “The Conservatives have an ideological aversion to trade unions and have repeatedly tried – and failed – during this parliament to curtail their mandate, such as trying to impose an arbitrary minimum threshold for vote turnouts. Many elected representatives such as MPs, police commissioners or local councillors are elected with a low turnout.”
He said his proposal would increase the democratic legitimacy of any vote, and the Lib Dems would include e-balloting in their manifesto.
Experts' predictions for the general election
Experts' predictions for the general election
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
Just as the polls in 2010 pointed to no overall majority for any party, the overwhelming evidence points to Labour either being the largest party or getting a small majority, probably below 20. The Lib Dems and SNP should each win between 25 and 35 seats, with single-figure wins for both Ukip and the Greens.
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
I predict it will be close. I predict a few tremors, though earthquakes are unlikely. I predict the eventual winner may not be the direct result of public opinion, but instead the outcome of political negotiations. It’s too early to predict numbers given all the uncertainties surrounding (among other things) Ukip, the SNP and the Lib Dems. It is possible that it will be close between Conservative and Labour in terms of both votes and seats. The Lib Dems might retain 20-30 seats and the balance of power, despite small gains for the SNP, and at most half a dozen Ukip seats. Gun to my head? Labour minority government.
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
A mug’s game for this election months away, but my predictions in order of likelihood: most likely a hung parliament or coalition of some kind, closely followed by either a small Labour majority or an equally small Conservative majority. Given how close the parties are, the unknown performance of Ukip in key marginals, the effect of incumbency on Lib Dem losses, the final size of SNP surge and so on, to be more precise is simply foolish! Professor Tetlock, who found that forecasts by experts were only slightly better than throwing dice, weighs heavily upon me!
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
I can see a hung parliament, where Labour is the largest party in terms of seats – though not necessarily in terms of votes, with the Lib Dems having 30 seats or fewer, the SNP having up to 20 seats and Ukip having no more than five seats. In short, it’s going to get messy and stay messy for some time to come.
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
I can’t recall there ever being an election more difficult to predict than this one. I’m confident no party will have an overall majority, with the Tories probably the largest party but no single partner for a viable coalition, with the Lib Dems on 25 seats, the SNP 20, Ukip three, and the Greens one.
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
We might have expected a workable Labour majority, were it not for the wild-card rise of the SNP in Scotland. Survation’s December Scottish polls suggest an almost complete wipeout by the SNP in Scotland and result in 40+ seat gains – mostly at Labour’s expense. My current predictions are: Labour the largest party by 40-50 seats over the Tories, no overall majority; Tories 235-255 seats; Lib Dems 20-30 seats; SNP 30-40 seats – maybe held back from potential support level by opposition incumbency and tactical voting by pro-unionist voters. Finally, Ukip, 5-10 wins from Conservatives, including Rochester and Clacton, and potentially a single Labour-seat surprise.
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
The battleground over the next three months is at the kitchen table – the difference between what the statistics tell us about the economy, the experience that Britons are having of managing their household budgets, and where – and if – they believe politics can make a difference. In this regard, the disconnect with the major political parties is more interesting than the horse race.
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
Our first poll for 2015 shows Labour one point ahead [see above], but polls four months out from an election are snapshots, not predictions. It would be extremely unwise for a pollster to make a firm prediction now. At the moment, Opinium’s estimate on polling day would be the Tories slightly ahead on vote share, but Labour slightly ahead on seats. These numbers are based on a uniform swing, with tweaks to Green and Ukip numbers based on local information: Labour 320 seats, Conservatives 271, Lib Dems 20, SNP 16, Plaid Cymru three, Greens two, Ukip four. A hung parliament with Labour potentially closer to a majority coalition than the Conservatives.
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
I’ve not recovered from the Scottish referendum campaign yet, and here we go with another wildcard strewn nail-biter. For me, Labour on 30 per cent will only fractionally nudge past their woeful 2010 showing – behind the Tories on 33 per cent – but enough to secure more seats (290 for Labour, 280 for the Tories) on boundary wackiness. The Lib Dems will secure 14 per cent of the vote and 35 seats; Ukip will also get 14 per cent, but that only gets them a couple of seats. As for Scotland, I’m bewildered, but as you asked I’ll say 30 seats for the SNP, which wipes out a breathing-space victory in seats for Labour.
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
Declined to take part. His spokeswoman said: “As he has said many times, his polls are snapshots not predictions.” Health warning: when The Independent on Sunday carried out a similar exercise in April 2010, at the start of that year’s election campaign, eight out of eight pollsters predicted a Conservative overall majority.
The Lib Dems are trying to forge links with the unions and Mr Cable has won the backing of the Trade Union Congress. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said: “It is time to bring union balloting into the 21st century. Like it or not, the postal service is only one way of communicating today, and it is time that union members had a proper choice of how they exercise their vote on important decisions in ways that preserve security and confidentiality, but boost turn-out and participation. It is now common in organisations such as political parties, and this should be a non-controversial move welcomed by anyone that values democracy.”
The Tories say that, of the 102 strike ballots held since 2010, nearly two-thirds failed to attract even half of the workforce. In some cases, strikes have gone ahead after winning the support of only one in 10 workers.
Yesterday the Tories attacked a plan by the Unite union which the party claimed could result in illegal strikes. Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, said its ruling body wanted to remove from its rulebook the phrase “so far as may be lawful”, in response to Tory proposals to make it more difficult to call a strike.Reuse content