OPINION - The Standard View: A rushed strike law risks trouble later on

 (David Simonds)
(David Simonds)

LEGISLATE in haste, repent at leisure could be the motto for any government, and so it may prove with the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill that is being rushed through the Commons, starting next week. For its crucial committee stage it will be dealt with in a debate of no more than five hours in the Commons and all stages after the second reading within six hours. This is asking for trouble. Any legislation — no matter how well intended — that is not fully thought through and not fully debated and revised will almost certainly fall victim to that iron rule, the law of unintended consequences.

Some people will have sympathy with the substance of the Bill, that striking unions should provide a minimum level of service to the public, including paramedics and emergency call handlers. Yet it is hard to see how this measure will do anything to help resolve the current disputes in the public services from paramedics to rail workers. Indeed, this Bill, which the unions correctly perceive as being directed squarely at them, has already poisoned negotiations intended to see off further strikes.

In terms of the NHS, as Andy Burnham pointed out in this paper yesterday, asking for a minimum level of service during strikes is ironic, given that on working days it is already difficult to get a decent service in many hospitals’ accident and emergency departments due to the pressure staff are under. The unions see this move as a bid by the Government to obtain the moral high ground; it would be unfortunate if it ended up precipitating a general strike.

Whatever the merits of the principle, this is a bad time to be rushing anti-strike measures through Parliament. Patient negotiations involving ministers and unions are needed now to deal with the substance of these disputes. The public just want them resolved.

Now the good news

AND the good news is... there is more of a chance the UK will avoid a recession. Rather than contracting by 0.2 per cent in November as some economists had predicted, the Office for National Statistics suggests that it grew by 0.1 per cent. Some of the growth can be attributable to the World Cup; some football fans may have stayed at home to watch the matches but many headed to the pub to boost the hospitality sector. All right, the difference between plus 0.1 per cent and minus 0.2 per cent is not huge, and the underlying pressures from rising food and fuel prices and increased interest rates haven’t gone away, but psychologically this is good news. And we haven’t had much of that lately.

Go to a show

OUR theatre reviewer, Nick Curtis, has hailed the new production of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre as “the first great London show of 2023”. Rebecca Frecknall’s production is bolstered by a starry cast, including Paul Mescal of Normal People as Stanley Kowalski. This play about unhappy people is, then, a heartening sign of the returning strength of London theatre. It has been through hard times lately, from Covid to the cultural pressures identified in this paper by Patricia Nichols to the dismal effects of rail strikes, but there are wonderful productions out there. Let’s turn out and support them.