Ross Clark Ross Clark

Rishi Sunak lacks the courage to take on the rail unions

Rishi Sunak (Credit: Getty images)

So, what was the point of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act? What is happening today and for the rest of this week was exactly what it was supposed to prevent: whole rail networks closing down on strike days. 

The law is in place and rail companies have the power to issue ‘work orders’ to staff demanding that enough employees turn up to work to run 40 percent of the normal service. They also have the powers to dismiss workers if they defy them. Yet not one of the 18 companies which are affected by this week’s rail strikes have used those powers. The one company which did indicate that it would invoke the act – LNER, which runs services between London, Leeds and Edinburgh – backed down when Aslef called a further five days’ of strikes. 

What was the point of privatisation if taxpayers are on the hook even more than they were in the days of nationalisation? 

So much for all the effort put into getting the Act through parliament, against bitter opposition in the Lords. It has been undermined by the usual potent combination of union bullying and craven management.

This is what is killing this government: not its policies but its serial failure to enact them, in spite of having a good working majority. What has happened with the Strikes Act is pretty similar to what has gone wrong with migration law. The government has huge public support for taking tough action on illegal migration; the human rights lawyers who have tried to frustrate the Rwanda plan and every other attempt to address the issue are in a completely different place from the public. 

It happened, too, with plans to take on woke influences in the civil service, promises to decriminalise failure to pay the TV licence and many other things: the government comes up with a plan but then backs down or fails to drive it through properly.

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