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The Tories are about to strike out Sunak, like Heath, risks overplaying his hand

'Who governs?' (Getty)


January 24, 2023   6 mins

With the Government’s anti-strike bill marching its way through Parliament, many on the Right will be conjuring up warm memories of Margaret Thatcher’s war against the trade union movement. For many Conservatives, this was Maggie’s “finest hour”. For Keir Starmer, himself a veteran of the Wapping dispute in 1986, such memories must run like a cold shiver down his spine.

Recollections of an earlier Conservative government’s failed effort to take on the unions are a bit foggier, however. Yet the failure of Edward Heath’s Industrial Relations Act 1971 might provide some caution to the Conservative’s anti-union bullishness. They might also set out an alternative path to Keir Starmer’s non-committal timidity towards industrial action.

On 14 June 1970, the reigning World Cup champions England squandered a 2-0 lead over West Germany to lose 3-2 in extra time. Four days later, the Labour Party saw its 98-seat majority vanish before its eyes. For both England and Labour, the glow of their 1966 victories had finally been extinguished.

The Labour prime minister Harold Wilson spent the following day packing away his personal belongings in 10 Downing Street. His wife Mary described the exit as “barbarous”. Crowds had gathered outside Downing Street shouting “Out! Out! Out!”, but Wilson could not go immediately to Buckingham Palace to resign because the Queen was enjoying a day at Ascot. To drown out the jeers, Wilson played The Seekers’ “The Carnival Is Over” again and again on his record player.

When the new Conservative prime minister, Edward Heath, entered Downing Street, he had two overriding missions. One was to bring Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC); the other was to crush the trade unions. The picture of trade union strength in 1970 was quite different from today. About half of British workers were in unions, compared to under a quarter now. In 1970, nearly 11 million working days in Britain were lost to strikes, more than any time since the General Strike of 1926. In contrast, less than a quarter of a million days were lost to strikes in 2019, the final full year of data before the pandemic.

Nor were those in the past solely aimed at Conservative government; strike action plagued. The final years of Wilson’s reign. The vast majority of these strikes were “unofficial” — that is to say, they were called without a ballot of members. Instead, a show of hands at a union meeting or the branch executive committee would be used as the mandate for a walk out.

The Employment Secretary Barbara Castle had tried to curb these actions. A trade unionist herself, Castle also wanted to update trade union rights, which were still relying on legal protections passed in 1906. Castle’s White Paper, In Place of Strife, was intended to provide a charter of rights for unions, while also imposing certain legal responsibilities. When she presented the proposals in a secret meeting to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), however, she was met with stony silence. She later compared her efforts to win support for her reforms as “like trying to win the votes of undertakers for a recipe for immortality”.

Once in office, Edward Heath was convinced that he could achieve what Labour failed to do. He would not only propose many of the punitive provisions outlined in In Place of Strife, but he would go further. He would establish a National Industrial Relations Court, which would have the power to grant injunctions to block strikes deemed to be injurious. It also banned the closed union shop, which had been a key Labour Party conviction (later abandoned by the Labour Party to align with European law, which forbids them).

When the Industrial Relations Bill was announced to the House of Commons in December 1970, Heath sat on the frontbenches grinning like “a Cheshire cat on a hot tin roof”, as Simon Jenkins put it. Heath thought he had forced the Labour Party into a corner. Labour would be forced either to repudiate its previous reforms and look hypocritical, or to oppose the legislation and look like it was in the pocket of the unions.

Heath’s clever scheme would backfire massively. The first thing Heath had not properly anticipated was both the skill and the scale of the opposition to the bill. It took seven months for the Government to push the bill through Parliament. In that time, it was met by ferocious resistance from Labour MPs, with the normally avuncular Willie Whitelaw being denounced as a “fascist” by Labour MPs in the House of Commons. Union activists took to the streets in enormous displays of solidarity.

To the surprise of many, Harold Wilson asked Barbara Castle to lead the charge against Heath’s trade union bill. While constantly subject to the charge of hypocrisy, Castle outlined the differences between her failed proposals and the Conservatives’. To add credibility to her arguments, Harold Wilson brought Michael Foot — doyen of the party’s Left — onto the frontbenches. Ever since his election in 1945, Foot had studiously avoided frontbench work, preferring to see himself as a principled outsider. When Foot first appeared at the despatch box, one journalist wrote in amazement: “It was as if Mary Whitehouse had turned up in the cast of Oh, Calcutta!”

The second miscalculation Heath had made was about the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions. Rather than drive a wedge, the Industrial Relations Bill helped to reunify the Labour Party and the unions, as they vowed to work together to oppose the legislation. In February 1971, the Labour Liaison Committee was formed, with six members each from the Shadow Cabinet, Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), and the TUC. It would become a crucial policy arm for the Labour Party during those years in opposition.

Out of the Liaison Committee emerged the Social Contract — a “great compact”, as Wilson called it — between the Labour Party and the unions. Labour vowed that it would repeal the Industrial Relation Act in the first session of the new Parliament. It would accompany this repeal with a raft of social welfare legislation and redistribution. Unions, in turn, would work to keep down wage demands through voluntary wage restraint.

In contrast, Heath continued to promote the image that he was in a great battle against the unions. This was his third miscalculation. Once he finally passed the Industrial Relations Act in June 1971, Heath had in effect taken ownership for subsequent industrial strife. He had passed a bill which was meant to end strikes, yet strikes only increased after the bill’s passage. In 1972, there were nearly 24 million working days lost to strike action, unseen since the General Strike.

Heath’s National Industrial Relations Court began imprisoning trade unionists who had gone on strike, contrary to the court’s injunctions. These arrests, like the famous Pentonville Five case, only provoked a further storm of industrial fury and unrest. In December 1970, when the legislation was first proposed, Heath had anticipated some backlash. “It is the storm before the calm,” he warned. But, he vowed: “Your government will not bow before the storm.”

Yet, as Heath’s government trundled on, the storm got worse. The oil price spike in 1973, combined with domestic industrial unrest in the energy sector, led to the government imposing a highly unpopular three-day week and the rationing of electricity usage. The Government was struggling to survive, and the whiff of an early election hung in the air.

In a December 1973 meeting of the Liaison Committee, it was agreed that even if the Government tried to frame an upcoming general election as a battle between Britain and the unions, Labour must stand by the unions. Labour’s January 1974 party political broadcast emphasised its productive relationship with the unions, where they would be “working together” in the “national interest”, not seeking to prolong the fight.

The Labour Party saw an opportunity to use its union connections for its own political benefit. The Social Contract, agreed by the Liaison Committee, became a clever political ploy for Wilson. He was able to promote the image that he and the unions were equals and on the kinds of terms that could forge an agreement. A vote for Labour in the February 1974 election became a vote to end the industrial strife by supporting the party that had a good working relationship with the unions. On 4 March 1974, Harold Wilson strolled through the steps of Downing Street once more.

While the strength of the trade union movement today is not what it was in the Seventies, there are important lessons for Sunak and Starmer. First, for Sunak: Heath overplayed his hand. He thought he could “take on” the unions and promised that his legislation would do just that. He was caught off-guard by the strength of the solidarity of the union movement and its ability to adapt. Rather than quell industrial strife, he only provoked more conflict.

The second lesson, for Starmer, is that Wilson refused to play into Tory hands. He knew that Labour’s relationship with the unions was a sensitive topic, particularly after In Place of Strife. Yet rather than think he could make political gains by bashing the unions and trying to “out-Heath Heath”, he opted for a co-operative relationship with the union leadership. The Liaison Committee between the party and unions proved to be a great success, helping to develop a set of policy proposals and a working relationship that would stabilise Wilson’s tenure. In the February 1974 election, Wilson could credibly argue he had the relationship with the unions that could settle the industrial dispute.

Rather than see unions as the embarrassing relative at the party, a proper working relationship of mutual respect, support, and solidarity might just be the winning formula for Labour — especially when contrasted with Tory division and disarray. There are already some signs that Labour is adopting this approach, with recent communications condemning the Conservatives for threatening to fire striking nurses.

Sunak, on the other hand, seems to be repeating Heath’s mistakes. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will not end industrial disruption, but in claiming that it will, Sunak is setting himself up for failure. If Sunak repeats Heath’s famous question of 1974, “Who governs?”, the answer after the next general election may well not be him.


Richard Johnson is a Lecturer in US Politics and Policy at Queen Mary University of London.

richardmarcj

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Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

The author presents this analysis as if it signified a kind of triumph for Wilson and Labour. The February 1974 general election resulted in a “hung parliament”. Wilson only became PM again because Heath was unable to form a coalition with the Liberals, but a lack of a majority forced Wilson into another election just a matter of months later, which produced a wafer-thin majority and within a couple of years he was gone, a broken man. Callaghan took over, culminating in the Winter of Discontent in 1978/79 which ushered in the Thatcher Era. The period from 1974-79 was one long humiliation for Labour, including having to beg for finance from the International Monetary Fund. We became “the sick man of Europe”. Some triumph.

If there’s a lesson to be drawn at all for Starmer, it’s ‘don’t cosy up to union power’. A sensible balance needs to be acheived, of course. Whether Sunak can acheive it is another matter, but this article – by focusing solely on 1970-74 – doesn’t even give half the true picture of events half a century ago. As a teenager with growing awareness, i remember it only too clearly.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

The author presents this analysis as if it signified a kind of triumph for Wilson and Labour. The February 1974 general election resulted in a “hung parliament”. Wilson only became PM again because Heath was unable to form a coalition with the Liberals, but a lack of a majority forced Wilson into another election just a matter of months later, which produced a wafer-thin majority and within a couple of years he was gone, a broken man. Callaghan took over, culminating in the Winter of Discontent in 1978/79 which ushered in the Thatcher Era. The period from 1974-79 was one long humiliation for Labour, including having to beg for finance from the International Monetary Fund. We became “the sick man of Europe”. Some triumph.

If there’s a lesson to be drawn at all for Starmer, it’s ‘don’t cosy up to union power’. A sensible balance needs to be acheived, of course. Whether Sunak can acheive it is another matter, but this article – by focusing solely on 1970-74 – doesn’t even give half the true picture of events half a century ago. As a teenager with growing awareness, i remember it only too clearly.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

I’m no fan of Sunak, but I think times have changed these days and there is greater scope for a Tory leader to bash the unions on principle. The reason, quite simply, is that there is no modern solidarity between unionised labour and the rest of the economy.

A few examples where it still exists, such as for NHS staff, are more to do with the specifics of the jobs in question: most people sympathise with nurses and paramedics simply because they are also average-paid and it’s the NHS. Train drivers, on the other hand, are sabotaging the average person’s ability to get to work as part of defending salary packages far higher than most of the people using public transport, and that isn’t making friends anywhere.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
John Riordan
John Riordan
1 year ago

I’m no fan of Sunak, but I think times have changed these days and there is greater scope for a Tory leader to bash the unions on principle. The reason, quite simply, is that there is no modern solidarity between unionised labour and the rest of the economy.

A few examples where it still exists, such as for NHS staff, are more to do with the specifics of the jobs in question: most people sympathise with nurses and paramedics simply because they are also average-paid and it’s the NHS. Train drivers, on the other hand, are sabotaging the average person’s ability to get to work as part of defending salary packages far higher than most of the people using public transport, and that isn’t making friends anywhere.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Riordan
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

This is not 1970, nor 1974 nor 1979, history neither repeats nor rhymes, and, unless you are planning to invade Russia, or Afghanistan, history holds no ‘lessons’. Sunak looks set to lose, but the least significant of the reasons why he loses, will be how he handles the unions. Or the Union.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

This is not 1970, nor 1974 nor 1979, history neither repeats nor rhymes, and, unless you are planning to invade Russia, or Afghanistan, history holds no ‘lessons’. Sunak looks set to lose, but the least significant of the reasons why he loses, will be how he handles the unions. Or the Union.

Edward Seymour
Edward Seymour
1 year ago

In following many other countries in outlawing blue light strikes, Sunack is aware that only a minority of the workforce are in a union and most of those are in the “public sector”. He will also be aware that the public are heartily sick of these very same “public sector” unions. He will also have noted that Labour (Streeting) is also urging NHS reform. The appalling sight of ambulance workers, yes ambulance workers, striking, has to stop. Clearly some of these people are in the wrong jobs.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Edward Seymour

Why shouldn’t they strike? They’re working in a sector with acute staff shortages, so why should they accept pay rises less than the rate of inflation, which is basically a pay cut?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“Why shouldn’t they strike?”

I’m assuming BB that is a genuine question and NOT a ‘wind up’?

Because they are in totally secure jobs, with ridiculously generous indexed-linked pensions, and in some, if not all, cases overpaid already. Plus they completely avoided the C-19 cull that affected many in the Private Sector. In short they are GREEDY.

Fortunately, in my long life I have witnessed this ‘Prima Dona’ Trade Union behaviour before, and on each occasion it has had catastrophic results for the ‘workers’
eg:
1:The London Dockers. A real menace in their day, even going on strike during WWII! Where are they now? One with Nineveh and Tyre fortunately.
2: British Car Workers. Another menace who with the assistance of ‘Management’ managed to destroy the British Car Industry and themselves. (Off course now we now make cars for ‘other people’ but the workforce is supine and compliant.
3: The fabled Miners, the heroes of 1926, and the wreckers of more that one government. Despite the fact we sit on an “Island of Coal”*, where are they now?

(* Attributed to Charles de Gaulle.)

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago

Yes, these so-called public servants are no longer really providing a service. Everybody wants to work from home so that means that kids can stay at home and be schooled remotely – teachers will no longer be needed.

(Just out of interest, I was listening to a radio programme this morning and a request came from someone who is working from home – he boasted that he could use the week for decorating).

With working from home there will be less demand for trains. Ambulances for emergency cases only sit outside hospitals waiting for permission to enter. Doctors don’t see patients now so they could work from home. Dentists would be the exception perhaps.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

Put all this to one side and let’s agree there will be some complete pee-takers. The more important question is arguably – what do we need to pay to attract people into these professions longer term? We need teachers. We need nurses and doctors. They all come out of Education with lots more debt than we did. Less chance of owning a home. Public sector pensions aren’t quite what they used to be. So what do we need to pay to make sure we don’t need to run round the world try to supplement these workforce with immigration? Calmy we just ought to ponder this before in our rage we make the medium term much worse.

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

You are quite right to ask this question and I thank you for it. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the answer…..

Democracy doesn’t work unles you have some sort of advantage in the world and we don’t. Today there are zillions of minority groups. If you paid student fees for doctors you could not ensure that good doctors came out of the process because:
* Pressure to pass exams leads to too much stress – in would come the ‘mental health’ people. Basically, all students would have to pass or we would have ‘naming and shaming’ and that would be bad.
* If, for example, a student was horrendously overweight but wanted to be a surgeon, you would have to re-design all functions to accomodate that person. Otherwise you would be picking on f*t people – not allowed.
*If the student became a doctor but wanted to work from home (mental issues), you would have to allow that.
*If the patient (me) refused to be operated on by a transperson, there could be no operation.
Etc, etc, etc.

So, the answer is an autocracy as we would have in a war.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris W
j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

Who’s ‘we’ CW?

Liam F
Liam F
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

Your statement “Democracy doesn’t work unles you have some sort of advantage in the world and we don’t” is wrong to me.
Capitalist democracies have done more to advance the lot of humans than any other system – despite its many flaws.
The secret sauce of capitalism is innovation (something stamped out in an autocracy). And the great thing is that innovation is free.
Change is the basis of all human existence .

Last edited 1 year ago by Liam F
j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

Who’s ‘we’ CW?

Liam F
Liam F
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

Your statement “Democracy doesn’t work unles you have some sort of advantage in the world and we don’t” is wrong to me.
Capitalist democracies have done more to advance the lot of humans than any other system – despite its many flaws.
The secret sauce of capitalism is innovation (something stamped out in an autocracy). And the great thing is that innovation is free.
Change is the basis of all human existence .

Last edited 1 year ago by Liam F
Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

You are quite right to ask this question and I thank you for it. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the answer…..

Democracy doesn’t work unles you have some sort of advantage in the world and we don’t. Today there are zillions of minority groups. If you paid student fees for doctors you could not ensure that good doctors came out of the process because:
* Pressure to pass exams leads to too much stress – in would come the ‘mental health’ people. Basically, all students would have to pass or we would have ‘naming and shaming’ and that would be bad.
* If, for example, a student was horrendously overweight but wanted to be a surgeon, you would have to re-design all functions to accomodate that person. Otherwise you would be picking on f*t people – not allowed.
*If the student became a doctor but wanted to work from home (mental issues), you would have to allow that.
*If the patient (me) refused to be operated on by a transperson, there could be no operation.
Etc, etc, etc.

So, the answer is an autocracy as we would have in a war.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris W
j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris W

Put all this to one side and let’s agree there will be some complete pee-takers. The more important question is arguably – what do we need to pay to attract people into these professions longer term? We need teachers. We need nurses and doctors. They all come out of Education with lots more debt than we did. Less chance of owning a home. Public sector pensions aren’t quite what they used to be. So what do we need to pay to make sure we don’t need to run round the world try to supplement these workforce with immigration? Calmy we just ought to ponder this before in our rage we make the medium term much worse.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

It fascinates me as to how a post war generation of workers went straight from wartime service, and the values of loyalty, discipline, service, duty and rank hirearchy to apparent neo communism?

Could one factor have been that post war ” managers” were of an age who had been too young to serve in WW1 and too old for WW2, and therefore did not command any respect from their workforce?

The car industry demise was due to a number of factors: appalling management, strategy, design, engineering and innovation, and a blindness to consumer choice and demand, and also the financial pressure of losing the manufacturing revenue from making military/ aviation parts, post war which had kept them all going.

ben arnulfssen
ben arnulfssen
1 year ago

Ah, I know this one! My parents were of that generation, and returned to loud assurances that they had “won the war”, a claim which even then didn’t bear much scrutiny.

Having supposedly “won”, where’s the prize?

One thing not much discussed now, but the Conservatives were regarded as the “party of unemployment” who intended to “reset the clock to 1938”. The English aren’t much given to abstract political thought but when an idea DOES take root, it sticks. “No return to the 1930s” was just such an idea.

ben arnulfssen
ben arnulfssen
1 year ago

Ah, I know this one! My parents were of that generation, and returned to loud assurances that they had “won the war”, a claim which even then didn’t bear much scrutiny.

Having supposedly “won”, where’s the prize?

One thing not much discussed now, but the Conservatives were regarded as the “party of unemployment” who intended to “reset the clock to 1938”. The English aren’t much given to abstract political thought but when an idea DOES take root, it sticks. “No return to the 1930s” was just such an idea.

Chris W
Chris W
1 year ago

Yes, these so-called public servants are no longer really providing a service. Everybody wants to work from home so that means that kids can stay at home and be schooled remotely – teachers will no longer be needed.

(Just out of interest, I was listening to a radio programme this morning and a request came from someone who is working from home – he boasted that he could use the week for decorating).

With working from home there will be less demand for trains. Ambulances for emergency cases only sit outside hospitals waiting for permission to enter. Doctors don’t see patients now so they could work from home. Dentists would be the exception perhaps.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

It fascinates me as to how a post war generation of workers went straight from wartime service, and the values of loyalty, discipline, service, duty and rank hirearchy to apparent neo communism?

Could one factor have been that post war ” managers” were of an age who had been too young to serve in WW1 and too old for WW2, and therefore did not command any respect from their workforce?

The car industry demise was due to a number of factors: appalling management, strategy, design, engineering and innovation, and a blindness to consumer choice and demand, and also the financial pressure of losing the manufacturing revenue from making military/ aviation parts, post war which had kept them all going.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“Why shouldn’t they strike?”

I’m assuming BB that is a genuine question and NOT a ‘wind up’?

Because they are in totally secure jobs, with ridiculously generous indexed-linked pensions, and in some, if not all, cases overpaid already. Plus they completely avoided the C-19 cull that affected many in the Private Sector. In short they are GREEDY.

Fortunately, in my long life I have witnessed this ‘Prima Dona’ Trade Union behaviour before, and on each occasion it has had catastrophic results for the ‘workers’
eg:
1:The London Dockers. A real menace in their day, even going on strike during WWII! Where are they now? One with Nineveh and Tyre fortunately.
2: British Car Workers. Another menace who with the assistance of ‘Management’ managed to destroy the British Car Industry and themselves. (Off course now we now make cars for ‘other people’ but the workforce is supine and compliant.
3: The fabled Miners, the heroes of 1926, and the wreckers of more that one government. Despite the fact we sit on an “Island of Coal”*, where are they now?

(* Attributed to Charles de Gaulle.)

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Edward Seymour

Why shouldn’t they strike? They’re working in a sector with acute staff shortages, so why should they accept pay rises less than the rate of inflation, which is basically a pay cut?

Edward Seymour
Edward Seymour
1 year ago

In following many other countries in outlawing blue light strikes, Sunack is aware that only a minority of the workforce are in a union and most of those are in the “public sector”. He will also be aware that the public are heartily sick of these very same “public sector” unions. He will also have noted that Labour (Streeting) is also urging NHS reform. The appalling sight of ambulance workers, yes ambulance workers, striking, has to stop. Clearly some of these people are in the wrong jobs.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

So Keir Starmer backed the print unions in the Wapping dispute. Don’t particularly like what he stands for, but I’d never had him down as stupid. But if he couldn’t see that the unions would not only lose, but absolutely deserved to (appalling luddism and restrictive practices, effectively price gouging the newspaper buying public for their own greed and laziness), you’ve got to seriously question the man’s judgement.
Wapping: Murdoch’s finest hour (and I’m no fan of Murdoch). Did us all a big favour.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

So Keir Starmer backed the print unions in the Wapping dispute. Don’t particularly like what he stands for, but I’d never had him down as stupid. But if he couldn’t see that the unions would not only lose, but absolutely deserved to (appalling luddism and restrictive practices, effectively price gouging the newspaper buying public for their own greed and laziness), you’ve got to seriously question the man’s judgement.
Wapping: Murdoch’s finest hour (and I’m no fan of Murdoch). Did us all a big favour.

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

In my opinion all public sector workers should be prevented by law from striking. If the army and the police can’t strike, why can the ambulance drivers, nurses, civil servants or teachers? Their pay and conditions are entirely political questions – unlike a private company, the NHS won’t go bust if the nurses go on strike. If they pay is too low, it will become an issue at election time.

And by all means privatise the railways, but not until you pass legislation making it illegal for them to strike.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

If you take away a persons right to strike, how can they bargain for better wages? Why would any government (especially one of a neoliberal bent) enter wage negotiations in good faith if they know the workers can’t withdraw their labour? Private sector workers are able to simply switch jobs in search of a pay rise for doing the same job, something that isn’t as simple in most public sector jobs. A nurse going to a different hospital is still going to be paid the same as she was before

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Surely that is doubly true for a policeman or a soldier (you can’t just join another country’s army), yet they can’t strike.
Working for the state should be a vocation – you have dedicated your life to caring for the sick, teaching the young, protecting the law-abiding citizens from the villains, defending the country against her enemies.
The quid pro quo should be that the state looks after you both in terms of giving you a good quality of life but also in terms of status. I would, for instance, look to provide special discounts on housing to key public sector workers* and let them jump the queue in terms of NHS waiting lists, school places and council housing etc. Supermarkets should be encouraged (through the tax and planning systems) to give discounts on Key Workers’ groceries. We should have a new Bank Holiday called Key Worker Day when delegations are invited to a service of thanks in Westminster Abbey and a garden party at Buckingham Palace and every town and village has a parade. The list of things that could be done (at relatively low cost is endless).
We got a taste of this with the Key Workers treatment in the pandemic.
By building up the status and the perks available to these Key Workers we will increase recruitment and overcome our reliance on immigration to fill these roles.
But in return for this status and these perks, they must commit to doing their job in good times or bad.
*Of course this would only be for the actual “blue light” staff – not the office staff who work for the DVLA, for instance. They should be allowed to strike but then again they should be outsourced to an efficient private company (who would quickly replace them with ChatGPT 🙂 ) and not employed by the state.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

I can’t agree with your “you have dedicated your life to…” argument, and i speak as someone who worked in the NHS for 35 years. It’s a career option – which isn’t to say that the majority who work in such services aren’t dedicated to their work – i was, and they are – but it’s not a life-dedicating issue.
Many work for a while in such services, then leave for other opportunities, having gained great professional and life experience, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s reasonably well paid, good career progression and a pretty decent pension.
Let’s stop this nonsense about NHS frontline staff being “angels”, it’s actually demeaning rubbish. Good people mainly doing a great job and certainly requiring certain qualities not everyone possesses, but at the end of each shift you go home and live; you don’t go into work to live. From that point of view, going on strike is the last option but should remain within the law.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Please do not insult the soldier with comparison to a policeman!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

I can’t agree with your “you have dedicated your life to…” argument, and i speak as someone who worked in the NHS for 35 years. It’s a career option – which isn’t to say that the majority who work in such services aren’t dedicated to their work – i was, and they are – but it’s not a life-dedicating issue.
Many work for a while in such services, then leave for other opportunities, having gained great professional and life experience, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s reasonably well paid, good career progression and a pretty decent pension.
Let’s stop this nonsense about NHS frontline staff being “angels”, it’s actually demeaning rubbish. Good people mainly doing a great job and certainly requiring certain qualities not everyone possesses, but at the end of each shift you go home and live; you don’t go into work to live. From that point of view, going on strike is the last option but should remain within the law.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

Please do not insult the soldier with comparison to a policeman!

Andy Moore
Andy Moore
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

When you work in a monopoly, you should have restrictions placed on your terms and conditions. Taking your argument, lead to disasters that we see now.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

They can become private sector nurses or do another job. Most of us don’t go on strike if we want better pay – we look for a better paid job somewhere else. If our current employer wants to keep us, they’ll pay more.
The reason this doesn’t work today in the public sector is the union-backed rigidity of pay – by insisting on national pay rates regardless of regional market pay rates and “equal pay for equal work”.
But I’ve yet to meet two people in the same nominal role (or job grade) who do do “equal work”.
The only solution here is to move away from these over-rigid pay structures and start paying people market rates for their actual skills. And stop pretending that all have the same skills.
It should absolutely be possible for a hospital or school in a more expensive/higher labour rate area to pay more for someone on the same nominal job grade than they are paid in a less expensive area. It’s entirely predictable what happens if you don’t. Private sector activity is suppressed in the poorer area (public sector workers are relatively over-paid there). Richer areas can’t get the public sector workers they need.
As ever, the unions are protectionist and backward looking and obstructing progress.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Given the high vacancy rates what do you think the market rate might settle at?
Of course there isn’t a market – NHS is largely a monopoly provider which has pros and cons when it comes to things like this. What one could do is scrap the national pay rates and allow local agreement. Something in that as it’s true the value of salaries does vary a bit geographically. But so long as a shortage existed it could just lead to increased wage inflation under a ‘beggar thy neighbour’ approach. We need demand and supply much closer to hold wages steady.
And given we need more nurses/care workers/doctors for future demographics too the more sensible way to look at this is – what is going to attract and retain them into the professions? (especially if we want to wean ourselves off foreign supplementation). Short termism has got us here.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

We need to train more British people and stop subsidising young people to study for negative value “degrees”. That, and remove the requirement for nursing degrees – get rid of the ridiculous credentialism which just forces up costs without improving quality or productivity. If there’s a need for higher skilled nurses, split nursing up into a higher skilled and lower skilled group. Those are – for me – obvious things to do. But doubtless there are many other things.
Lowering the cost of medical degrees and qualifications (e.g. bursaries) would also help. It’s sheer madness for government to treat all “degrees” as equally useful. Particularly when we have shortages.
Yes, there are certainly some cases where market forces probably won’t work in areas like the NHS. But pretending that they never apply and never work isn’t working either.
I honestly don’t know where the “market rate” might settle.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

The “market rate” for a nurse is the amount of money paid to an agency nurse, hired to fill the role of the nurse you are unable to recruit because you’re not paying them enough. Seems to me that you might solve a lot of recruitment problems, from nursing to fruit picking if O-level Economics principles like supply and demand were observed. People will apply for jobs if the rewards are worth the effort. Wages need to go up. Particularly in the private sector where shareholders’ interests are paramount to the extent that taxpayers have to top-up derisory wage levels with Universal Credit.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

We agree we clearly want teachers, doctors, nurses well trained and we want to attract some of our best into these professions. As regards Care sector, entry qualification less the issue although good training essential. The question was what do we need to pay to get them to do it in sufficient numbers? Obviously if they haven’t incurred so much debt as a student that’s a start, but that isn’t going to be corrected quickly. The only correction we have immediately is wage rate increase and/or immediate debt relief. Instead teachers are 11% poorer than 2011 and nurses/doctors similar (not quite as much as Unions make out but significant)
NHS used to have alot of short term housing it could offer nurses/doctors in training. That’s largely gone too. Sold off to cover other capital shortfalls. A reinvestment in that would help but again not quick.
As regards care sector it’s more straightforward – we just got to pay significantly more. We can’t have 30k NHS beds blocked a day because of 100k vacancies in social care and then more people off long term sick waiting for their op. We also need to make this sector more attractive such that we get middle aged/early retirees back into the workforce enjoying the satisfaction these roles can give. Or we are inevitably going to need to prise open the immigration door to help. The current position is untenable and having a major drag on the wider economy.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

Here’s an idea. Haven’t really thought it through. but let’s try it.
You don’t raise wages. Instead, you raise tax thresholds for critical professions (or lower tax rates). So you raise the “take home pay” (a phrase you don’t really here these days) without raising the salary a lot. That has several things in its favour. Firstly, it’s reversible if the labour shortages disappear. Secondly, it doesn’t lock even even more unfunded future pension liabilities.
Too complicated, you may say. But the employees in this case are the government’s own (health service workers) – so they should reliably know who they are (though we must never underestimate the ability of government to create a bad IT system !). And anyone employed at much higher cost through an agency won’t get the tax cut.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

Generally agree on this (our Brexit dispute is still raging on in another comment section !).

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Yep the issue is take home pay as you rightly say. And certainly like the disincentive to work for an agency worker.
Putting aside the question of equity with other workers, which would be a major challenge for politicians, the problem might be how easy to administer? But I can’t think of a major issue. One can understand why means tested benefits etc sound reasonable but become impractical at an administration level (why we ended up originally with universal Child Benefit flat rate), but on this one it’s just a different tax code so simple one would think.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Yep the issue is take home pay as you rightly say. And certainly like the disincentive to work for an agency worker.
Putting aside the question of equity with other workers, which would be a major challenge for politicians, the problem might be how easy to administer? But I can’t think of a major issue. One can understand why means tested benefits etc sound reasonable but become impractical at an administration level (why we ended up originally with universal Child Benefit flat rate), but on this one it’s just a different tax code so simple one would think.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

Here’s an idea. Haven’t really thought it through. but let’s try it.
You don’t raise wages. Instead, you raise tax thresholds for critical professions (or lower tax rates). So you raise the “take home pay” (a phrase you don’t really here these days) without raising the salary a lot. That has several things in its favour. Firstly, it’s reversible if the labour shortages disappear. Secondly, it doesn’t lock even even more unfunded future pension liabilities.
Too complicated, you may say. But the employees in this case are the government’s own (health service workers) – so they should reliably know who they are (though we must never underestimate the ability of government to create a bad IT system !). And anyone employed at much higher cost through an agency won’t get the tax cut.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

Generally agree on this (our Brexit dispute is still raging on in another comment section !).

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

The “market rate” for a nurse is the amount of money paid to an agency nurse, hired to fill the role of the nurse you are unable to recruit because you’re not paying them enough. Seems to me that you might solve a lot of recruitment problems, from nursing to fruit picking if O-level Economics principles like supply and demand were observed. People will apply for jobs if the rewards are worth the effort. Wages need to go up. Particularly in the private sector where shareholders’ interests are paramount to the extent that taxpayers have to top-up derisory wage levels with Universal Credit.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

We agree we clearly want teachers, doctors, nurses well trained and we want to attract some of our best into these professions. As regards Care sector, entry qualification less the issue although good training essential. The question was what do we need to pay to get them to do it in sufficient numbers? Obviously if they haven’t incurred so much debt as a student that’s a start, but that isn’t going to be corrected quickly. The only correction we have immediately is wage rate increase and/or immediate debt relief. Instead teachers are 11% poorer than 2011 and nurses/doctors similar (not quite as much as Unions make out but significant)
NHS used to have alot of short term housing it could offer nurses/doctors in training. That’s largely gone too. Sold off to cover other capital shortfalls. A reinvestment in that would help but again not quick.
As regards care sector it’s more straightforward – we just got to pay significantly more. We can’t have 30k NHS beds blocked a day because of 100k vacancies in social care and then more people off long term sick waiting for their op. We also need to make this sector more attractive such that we get middle aged/early retirees back into the workforce enjoying the satisfaction these roles can give. Or we are inevitably going to need to prise open the immigration door to help. The current position is untenable and having a major drag on the wider economy.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

The anomaly there are care workers. If you work in home care you only get paid for the time you enter a clients house to the time you leave having to phone in your arrival. Some people can be available during 10-12 hour shifts but be paid for 5-6 hours. In a care home you get paid for every hour you work and don’t travel wasting time or the deterioration of your car. It’s not difficult to see why there is a crisis in Home care that no other profession has to put up with.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Martin

I agree AM. It’s also why we can source a Care Home bed slightly quicker than a Care Package. But the former is usually much more expensive overall, both if a self-payer or if reliant on Local Authority. And thus we end up pushing people into Care Homes earlier than was really needed with all the decompensation in health and mental agility that accelerates. People prefer to stay in own home long as poss and do better generally for it. It’s also cheaper.
Personally I think the non payment for travelling time should be made illegal or remunerated in another way forthwith. I think were this workforce unionised this would have been resolved years ago and market rebalanced accordingly. Possible side argument/paradox therefore that we need the balance of employer-union to find sustainable market positions? Too much power either way and get the balance wrong.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew Martin

I agree AM. It’s also why we can source a Care Home bed slightly quicker than a Care Package. But the former is usually much more expensive overall, both if a self-payer or if reliant on Local Authority. And thus we end up pushing people into Care Homes earlier than was really needed with all the decompensation in health and mental agility that accelerates. People prefer to stay in own home long as poss and do better generally for it. It’s also cheaper.
Personally I think the non payment for travelling time should be made illegal or remunerated in another way forthwith. I think were this workforce unionised this would have been resolved years ago and market rebalanced accordingly. Possible side argument/paradox therefore that we need the balance of employer-union to find sustainable market positions? Too much power either way and get the balance wrong.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

We need to train more British people and stop subsidising young people to study for negative value “degrees”. That, and remove the requirement for nursing degrees – get rid of the ridiculous credentialism which just forces up costs without improving quality or productivity. If there’s a need for higher skilled nurses, split nursing up into a higher skilled and lower skilled group. Those are – for me – obvious things to do. But doubtless there are many other things.
Lowering the cost of medical degrees and qualifications (e.g. bursaries) would also help. It’s sheer madness for government to treat all “degrees” as equally useful. Particularly when we have shortages.
Yes, there are certainly some cases where market forces probably won’t work in areas like the NHS. But pretending that they never apply and never work isn’t working either.
I honestly don’t know where the “market rate” might settle.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

The anomaly there are care workers. If you work in home care you only get paid for the time you enter a clients house to the time you leave having to phone in your arrival. Some people can be available during 10-12 hour shifts but be paid for 5-6 hours. In a care home you get paid for every hour you work and don’t travel wasting time or the deterioration of your car. It’s not difficult to see why there is a crisis in Home care that no other profession has to put up with.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Given the high vacancy rates what do you think the market rate might settle at?
Of course there isn’t a market – NHS is largely a monopoly provider which has pros and cons when it comes to things like this. What one could do is scrap the national pay rates and allow local agreement. Something in that as it’s true the value of salaries does vary a bit geographically. But so long as a shortage existed it could just lead to increased wage inflation under a ‘beggar thy neighbour’ approach. We need demand and supply much closer to hold wages steady.
And given we need more nurses/care workers/doctors for future demographics too the more sensible way to look at this is – what is going to attract and retain them into the professions? (especially if we want to wean ourselves off foreign supplementation). Short termism has got us here.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The practical reality for most of us is that if we chose to go on strike there would be no job to go back to.
The only option is to look elsewhere

Jane Hewland
Jane Hewland
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I challenge that. You can work in a BUPA or private hospital. Or do what many do and become agency nurses. When I was in hospital for a week last year, over 50% of the nurses were agency temps and openly told me they were earning way more than they would be if in a permanent position. We do need to recognise that more needs to be spent training nurses and doctors and indeed persuading young people to take these up as careers.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jane Hewland
Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Surely that is doubly true for a policeman or a soldier (you can’t just join another country’s army), yet they can’t strike.
Working for the state should be a vocation – you have dedicated your life to caring for the sick, teaching the young, protecting the law-abiding citizens from the villains, defending the country against her enemies.
The quid pro quo should be that the state looks after you both in terms of giving you a good quality of life but also in terms of status. I would, for instance, look to provide special discounts on housing to key public sector workers* and let them jump the queue in terms of NHS waiting lists, school places and council housing etc. Supermarkets should be encouraged (through the tax and planning systems) to give discounts on Key Workers’ groceries. We should have a new Bank Holiday called Key Worker Day when delegations are invited to a service of thanks in Westminster Abbey and a garden party at Buckingham Palace and every town and village has a parade. The list of things that could be done (at relatively low cost is endless).
We got a taste of this with the Key Workers treatment in the pandemic.
By building up the status and the perks available to these Key Workers we will increase recruitment and overcome our reliance on immigration to fill these roles.
But in return for this status and these perks, they must commit to doing their job in good times or bad.
*Of course this would only be for the actual “blue light” staff – not the office staff who work for the DVLA, for instance. They should be allowed to strike but then again they should be outsourced to an efficient private company (who would quickly replace them with ChatGPT 🙂 ) and not employed by the state.

Last edited 1 year ago by Matt M
Andy Moore
Andy Moore
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

When you work in a monopoly, you should have restrictions placed on your terms and conditions. Taking your argument, lead to disasters that we see now.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

They can become private sector nurses or do another job. Most of us don’t go on strike if we want better pay – we look for a better paid job somewhere else. If our current employer wants to keep us, they’ll pay more.
The reason this doesn’t work today in the public sector is the union-backed rigidity of pay – by insisting on national pay rates regardless of regional market pay rates and “equal pay for equal work”.
But I’ve yet to meet two people in the same nominal role (or job grade) who do do “equal work”.
The only solution here is to move away from these over-rigid pay structures and start paying people market rates for their actual skills. And stop pretending that all have the same skills.
It should absolutely be possible for a hospital or school in a more expensive/higher labour rate area to pay more for someone on the same nominal job grade than they are paid in a less expensive area. It’s entirely predictable what happens if you don’t. Private sector activity is suppressed in the poorer area (public sector workers are relatively over-paid there). Richer areas can’t get the public sector workers they need.
As ever, the unions are protectionist and backward looking and obstructing progress.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The practical reality for most of us is that if we chose to go on strike there would be no job to go back to.
The only option is to look elsewhere

Jane Hewland
Jane Hewland
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I challenge that. You can work in a BUPA or private hospital. Or do what many do and become agency nurses. When I was in hospital for a week last year, over 50% of the nurses were agency temps and openly told me they were earning way more than they would be if in a permanent position. We do need to recognise that more needs to be spent training nurses and doctors and indeed persuading young people to take these up as careers.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jane Hewland
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Matt M

If you take away a persons right to strike, how can they bargain for better wages? Why would any government (especially one of a neoliberal bent) enter wage negotiations in good faith if they know the workers can’t withdraw their labour? Private sector workers are able to simply switch jobs in search of a pay rise for doing the same job, something that isn’t as simple in most public sector jobs. A nurse going to a different hospital is still going to be paid the same as she was before

Matt M
Matt M
1 year ago

In my opinion all public sector workers should be prevented by law from striking. If the army and the police can’t strike, why can the ambulance drivers, nurses, civil servants or teachers? Their pay and conditions are entirely political questions – unlike a private company, the NHS won’t go bust if the nurses go on strike. If they pay is too low, it will become an issue at election time.

And by all means privatise the railways, but not until you pass legislation making it illegal for them to strike.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

The problem with the author’s argument is that unlike in the 1970s the train drivers on strike have an average pay of ÂŁ58,256 while the average pay in the UK is ÂŁ29,600. The sympathy just isn’t there when some of the strikers appear as mere opportunists.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Train drivers’ wages are good example of what can be protected if you have effective trade union representation. The question you need to ask is: why have average wages fallen so low?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago

Train drivers wages are only protected because the rail service is a quasi-public service and subsidised by Government.
If this was not the case there would be no train drivers or trains.
That is the hard economic reality for the rest of us.
The cake does not get bigger. For one person person to get more someone else has to get less

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago

Train drivers wages are only protected because the rail service is a quasi-public service and subsidised by Government.
If this was not the case there would be no train drivers or trains.
That is the hard economic reality for the rest of us.
The cake does not get bigger. For one person person to get more someone else has to get less

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

Train drivers’ wages are good example of what can be protected if you have effective trade union representation. The question you need to ask is: why have average wages fallen so low?

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

The problem with the author’s argument is that unlike in the 1970s the train drivers on strike have an average pay of ÂŁ58,256 while the average pay in the UK is ÂŁ29,600. The sympathy just isn’t there when some of the strikers appear as mere opportunists.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

“Sunak, on the other hand, seems to be repeating Heath’s mistakes. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will not end industrial disruption,”
The author is fantasising. There is no industry to disrupt, and no trades union movement to disrupt it. Sunak will eventually surrender to the nurses (Get on with it man) and the rest will collapse.

Last edited 1 year ago by polidori redux
Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I actually think there is not the universal support for striking nurses and doctors that people think. Going on strike seems a fundamental mistake for these groups – in my book professionals put their customers/clients/patients first and don’t strike. If you want to be considered a professional, you need to behave like one.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I actually think there is not the universal support for striking nurses and doctors that people think. Going on strike seems a fundamental mistake for these groups – in my book professionals put their customers/clients/patients first and don’t strike. If you want to be considered a professional, you need to behave like one.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

“Sunak, on the other hand, seems to be repeating Heath’s mistakes. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will not end industrial disruption,”
The author is fantasising. There is no industry to disrupt, and no trades union movement to disrupt it. Sunak will eventually surrender to the nurses (Get on with it man) and the rest will collapse.

Last edited 1 year ago by polidori redux
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Ted Heath was Britain’s final transitional demise of the Servants taking over the Hall… The Old Tories panicked… the rest was the slide of Britain into the hands of the Pooter, the chief clerk and the line manager…

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

There’s a suggestion that Kenneth Widmerpool (in Anthony Powell’s “A Dance to the Music of Time”) was based on Edward Heath.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Where did ‘Grocer’ get his money from?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Where did ‘Grocer’ get his money from?

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

There’s a suggestion that Kenneth Widmerpool (in Anthony Powell’s “A Dance to the Music of Time”) was based on Edward Heath.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Ted Heath was Britain’s final transitional demise of the Servants taking over the Hall… The Old Tories panicked… the rest was the slide of Britain into the hands of the Pooter, the chief clerk and the line manager…

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

The Railways are bloated in “more ways than one” and need radical reform.

Now is the time to fully implement the proposals of the report* prepared by the late Sir David Serpell in 1982.

(* To be precise, Plan A.)

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

This is probably an unpopular idea, but I would nationalise the railways (and place it under the control of the army). You cannot have market competition where there is no market.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

An excellent idea. The Army has certainly ran railways before and used to have its own at Bordon, Hants some years ago.

The present system of subsidising ‘private rail companies’ is ridiculous.

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

and a new sixth Household Division regiment ? The Train Guards?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Or eighth, depending how you count them?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Or eighth, depending how you count them?

j watson
j watson
1 year ago

I actually read somewhere that post War at some point virtually the whole BR Board was ex-forces, incl the Chair, CEO etc. So in some regards we have had this before. I’m old enough to remember BR, and can’t recollect it being worse than it is now. It was heavily unionised.
As you’ll know Officers who don’t make the next tier of selection are retired earlier than in other professions – (stops time servers clogging things up and a separate discussion for another day perhaps). But I wonder where they all end up then for the final 10, sometimes 20+ years of their potential working life? It’s too long to just be walking the dog and the Golf links.

Last edited 1 year ago by j watson
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

Well, and in reverse order, most retire at 50-55 and statistically have about 25 years left. Many used to head for the City, or various Arms Manufacturers, or even head of to Universities or Schools as Bursars. Many off course were quite happy to go on ‘gardening leave’ on a pension of 2/3rds final salary.

British Railways (BR) have been pretty awful throughout my lifetime. Occasionally there would be a spot of brilliance**, but most of the time it was a national embarrassment.

Then came that astounding deceit, PRIVATISATION! An oxymoron if ever there was one. Private Companies in receipt of Public Money, more in fact than in BR days astoundingly!
Result weak, pathetic management as shown by the chaos we now face.

Plaudits of Privatisation emphasise that Passengers numbers have increased, but only due to demographics, increases in leisure time, and unrealistic ticketing policies.
For example why should I receive a massive “old gimmers*” discount on my rail tickets just so I can indulge my interest in English Medieval Cathedrals? I haven’t earned it just by staying alive, the whole thing is a nonsense!

However let us now rejoice, the old Great Western Mainline is about to be electrified, a mere 75 years after the creation of BR in 1947. Hallelujah!

(*Senior Rail Card.)
(** The reinstatement of “The Bristolian” in 1954 for example.)

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

Well, and in reverse order, most retire at 50-55 and statistically have about 25 years left. Many used to head for the City, or various Arms Manufacturers, or even head of to Universities or Schools as Bursars. Many off course were quite happy to go on ‘gardening leave’ on a pension of 2/3rds final salary.

British Railways (BR) have been pretty awful throughout my lifetime. Occasionally there would be a spot of brilliance**, but most of the time it was a national embarrassment.

Then came that astounding deceit, PRIVATISATION! An oxymoron if ever there was one. Private Companies in receipt of Public Money, more in fact than in BR days astoundingly!
Result weak, pathetic management as shown by the chaos we now face.

Plaudits of Privatisation emphasise that Passengers numbers have increased, but only due to demographics, increases in leisure time, and unrealistic ticketing policies.
For example why should I receive a massive “old gimmers*” discount on my rail tickets just so I can indulge my interest in English Medieval Cathedrals? I haven’t earned it just by staying alive, the whole thing is a nonsense!

However let us now rejoice, the old Great Western Mainline is about to be electrified, a mere 75 years after the creation of BR in 1947. Hallelujah!

(*Senior Rail Card.)
(** The reinstatement of “The Bristolian” in 1954 for example.)

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

and a new sixth Household Division regiment ? The Train Guards?

j watson
j watson
1 year ago

I actually read somewhere that post War at some point virtually the whole BR Board was ex-forces, incl the Chair, CEO etc. So in some regards we have had this before. I’m old enough to remember BR, and can’t recollect it being worse than it is now. It was heavily unionised.
As you’ll know Officers who don’t make the next tier of selection are retired earlier than in other professions – (stops time servers clogging things up and a separate discussion for another day perhaps). But I wonder where they all end up then for the final 10, sometimes 20+ years of their potential working life? It’s too long to just be walking the dog and the Golf links.

Last edited 1 year ago by j watson
Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Personally I’d tell the Unions, here you are, you can have the lot, you are now a co-operative. Good luck!

Last edited 1 year ago by Bill Bailey
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

An excellent idea. The Army has certainly ran railways before and used to have its own at Bordon, Hants some years ago.

The present system of subsidising ‘private rail companies’ is ridiculous.

Last edited 1 year ago by CHARLES STANHOPE
Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Personally I’d tell the Unions, here you are, you can have the lot, you are now a co-operative. Good luck!

Last edited 1 year ago by Bill Bailey
polidori redux
polidori redux
1 year ago

This is probably an unpopular idea, but I would nationalise the railways (and place it under the control of the army). You cannot have market competition where there is no market.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

The Railways are bloated in “more ways than one” and need radical reform.

Now is the time to fully implement the proposals of the report* prepared by the late Sir David Serpell in 1982.

(* To be precise, Plan A.)