Rights are up for grabs in a way they haven’t been for decades

Mike Clancy · 7 November 2019

Rights are up for grabs in a way they haven’t been for decades


Not all elections are created equal. There are some, as in 1945 or 1979, when more is at stake than in others, when the choice before the public is starker, when it simply matters more. Everything tells me this is a watershed election. Whatever result we wake up with on December 13th there is the strong possibility that our economy will be set for a radical shake up that will have long term consequences for Prospect members across the UK.

We are a politically independent trade union and we take this incredibly seriously. We do not donate money to any party, or vote in their internal elections. We do not campaign for any party and we certainly do not tell our members which way to vote. But being politically independent does not mean we are silent in the public debate, in fact in some ways it makes it even more important that our voice is heard.

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The last few years have seen a decline in the quality of political debate: personal attacks are more frequent, facts are routinely abused or discarded and populist rhetoric too often trumps reasoned debate. I have been alarmed at the way that independent institutions and the expertise many of our members provide in them, have been undermined and ignored by all parties in recent years, and that is only going to get worse in this campaign. We have tried to swim against this tide by providing expert commentary, calling out false or misleading information and standing up for our members. We will continue to do this throughout the election.

But I do not believe that our role stops there. People join Prospect for a number of reasons, but central to everything is the idea of standing up for employment rights. Not only because they protect individuals, but because good regulation is the key to good business and a successful economy. I would be failing in my duty as your general secretary if I didn’t share my fears about the future of the economy and employment rights in the years ahead. Because I believe that your rights at work are up for grabs in this election in a way that they haven’t been for decades.

I simply do not believe the promises being made by leading government figures that the only reason they are so desperate to ‘take back control’ of aspects of employment legislation from Europe is so they can give people more rights. It simply isn’t credible when you look at their record or the policies they have advocated. It takes us all for fools. Just before the election I met with Michael Gove to discuss the government’s new Brexit deal. I asked him for guarantees that the UK would not fall below the EU on employment rights, he couldn’t provide me with any. And it is no surprise when leading Cabinet members have consistently argued that the main reason to leave the European Union is so the UK can do away with employment regulations and protections that they argue harm UK businesses.

Of course this isn’t the only issue in this election and members will vote based on a whole host of reasons, both personal and national. But my view is that if the government passes its new Brexit deal through parliament then we are heading for a very different employment relationship in the future. One where employers have even more control, where rights and protections are stripped back, and where our voice at work is even further diminished. That will mean a very different economy and a dangerous path of divergence for the UK.

This isn’t the only argument Prospect will be making in the election campaign. We will be standing up for our members’ jobs when they become the subject of political debate. We will be pushing for action to tackle the climate emergency, but also warning against undeliverable promises not based on the science. We want to see credible plans for decarbonising our economy that have workers at the heart of them, not meaningless slogans or unrealistic targets with no policy behind them. We will also be defending members in the civil service or the BBC when attempts are made to impugn their independence and drag them into the political debate.

This is set to be a fractious few weeks for the UK leading to even more tumultuous times ahead. I’m proud of everything Prospect has done to support members and to amplify expertise, reason and constructive debate. Whatever happens next month, whatever colour of government we end up with, we will be ready to stand up for members and argue for their rights and interests.

Mike Clancy is the general secretary of Prospect Union.