The House of Commons voted to pass the government’s flagship trade union legislation on 30 January. By 315 to 246 votes, MPs backed enacting minimum service levels for fire, ambulance and rail services for when the sectors decide to take industrial action. It comes ahead of ‘Walkout Wednesday’ – the biggest day of strikes since 2011. It will see hundreds of thousands of workers, including teachers, train and bus drivers, walk out in separate disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.
Labour has fiercely attacked the government’s plans, with Angela Rayner repeatedly clashing with Business Secretary Grant Shapps in the House over the so-called ‘Sack nurses Bill.’ Public opinion is split on the issue: nurses enjoy majority support but a majority oppose workers earning over £50,000 from going on strike. And the headlines about the vote feature prominent criticism from Shapps’ predecessor Jacob Rees-Mogg. He supported the proposals but called the bill ‘badly written’ and an ‘example of bad practice.’
Yet despite all that the bill still passed by a big majority – some 69 votes. It’s a timely reminder of the power that Rishi Sunak still has in parliament. Polling trends may have the Tories in the mid-twenties but with an election not necessary for another 18 months, it is a useful example of the measures that the Conservatives can pass while they are still in government. Minimum service levels was a commitment in the 2019 manifesto: last night’s vote shows that he party can still unite around such issues. It will also serve as validation for those in the Whips’ Office and No. 10 who correctly judged that the bill would command backbench support and pass the Commons relatively easily.
The bill now moves on to the House of Lords, where a bigger battle now looks likely. Only 262 of the 782 peers who sit in the Upper House take the Tory whip, with far fewer incentives or deterrents at the disposal of party managers.