Under Boris’s proposed strike rule change, he would be banned from office

Under Johnson's proposed rule change strikes with a turnout of less than 50 per cent would be banned; but were that rule change applied across the board Boris himself would be banned from office.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has demanded that David Cameron change the laws surrounding strike action so that walkouts would be banned unless there is at least a 50 per cent turnout.

“There were fully 70 per cent of members who were not in favour of this action,” the Mayor said.

“It is absolutely outrageous that London, the motor of the UK economy, should be held to ransom by this tiny minority.

“We need a ballot threshold so that at least 50 per cent of the relevant workforce has to take the trouble to vote, or else the ballot is void,” he added.

Members of the Maritime and Transport union (RMT) and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) are set to walk out for 48 hours from 9.00pm this evening and again on 11 February. According to the RMT, 40 per cent of members voted in the ballot, with 76 per cent of those backing the strikes.

Just 40 per cent of members turned out – it sounds low, doesn’t it?

Except turnouts of that level are not unusual – in fact, turnouts of between 30 and 40 per cent are par for the course in most elections other than General Election where the stakes are higher and more people inevitably turn out.

Yesterday I pointed out that it must take some front on Boris Johnson’s part to pretend that the closure of every ticket office on the London Underground is somehow business as usual when he explicitly came out against such a move during his 2008 and 2012 election campaigns.

But even more hypocritical is Johnson’s call for a 50 per cent turnout threshold for walkouts. It’s not simply that Boris was himself elected on turnouts of just 44.5 per cent and 37.4 per cent respectively (hardly barnstorming), but that he wishes to apply a standard to workers that almost never applies to other elected representatives.

The rules as applied to most elections assume that, if you do not turn up to vote you lose the right to have a say over the result. This seems perfectly fair. In fact, turnout tends to be lower in those elections where people are either broadly satisfied with the result or believe there is little to differentiate the candidates (hardly the case in a yes/no strike ballot).

There is little reason to believe that a worker who is dead-set against a particular strike will stay at home rather than cast a ballot against strike action. More likely they stay away because they already have a fair idea as to what the result will be and don’t particularly object (77 per cent of RMT members who voted in the recent ballot backed strike action).

Under Johnson’s proposed rule change strikes with a turnout of less than 50 per cent would be banned; but were that rule applied across the board Boris himself would be banned from office – as would thousands of other elected officials, including councillors, MEPs and party functionaries.

The Mayor is quite aware of this of course. Despite his bumbling and amiable demeanour, he is a red-in-tooth-and-claw conservative who uses electoral sophistry to try to prevent democratic walkouts because it’s no longer palatable to ban strikes entirely.

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