Parents to break teachers’ strike? Maude turns up gas
‘Moderniser’ Maude shows his father’s true blue colours when it comes to dealing with the unions
Francis Maude has exacerbated the growing split in the coalition government between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats over this Thursday's damaging strike by thousands of teachers and civil servants over cuts to their pension entitlement.
The Cabinet Secretary, who is due to meet the unions today to try to avert the strike, has remodelled himself as one of David Cameron's leading modernisers (he rarely appears on television with a tie round his neck).
But when it comes to the unions, there is something visceral in the Tory make-up that makes Francis Maude as Thatcherite as his father, Angus Maude, one of Margaret's most devoted cheerleaders, especially over industrial strife.
On the Today programme this morning, when one might have expected him to be conciliatory given it was only hours before his meeting with the unions, Maude backed the education secretary Michael Gove in supporting the idea of parents going into schools to keep the schools open if their teachers are manning the barricades outside the school gates.
This is potentially explosive stuff and former teachers have warned that it could scare the kids to have a stranger in their midst. Maude, however, said: "I hope that schools will stay open. Small businesses will be very disrupted if people have to take a day off work because a school is closed.
"The schools teach children but they also provide child care and if parents can come in, if others volunteers can come in, I want schools to stay open."
Today presenter James Naughtie cut him off in mid-flow but there is no doubt that Maude wants parents to act as child-minders in schools, an act that the unions will regard as strike-breaking.
Gove encountered a wave of criticism for floating the idea in the Independent on Sunday and on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, but it seems that is what the government is hoping for on Thursday to break the back of the strike, before more threatened action is taken next week.
Cameron's advisers are banking on the belief that the strikers do not have public support and it's a reasonable assumption, given that most members of the public on worse pensions are having to subsidise through their taxes the higher pensions of the public sector workers.
But the government is also hoping that the strike will give them the context to go further than Margaret Thatcher in making it illegal for unions to call strikes without getting 50 per cent of their members to vote in favour of strike action.
Senior Tories including the London Mayor Boris Johnson - who has his own agenda to break the power of the Arthur Scargill of the Tube system, RMT leader Bob Crow - have been calling for the change in the law and over the weekend the Cameron briefers have allowed the impression to be given that it is on the agenda.
They also bowed to right-wing pressure by signalling that they will do something to stop full-time union officials being fully subsidised with public sector jobs.
Then, right on cue, business secretary Vince Cable declared that further legal action against the unions was not on anyone's agenda, and was only a last resort.
Cable posing as The Voice of Reason told BBC Radio 5 Live: "There are people who are pushing from both sides, some people want strikes, some people want strike legislation. That's not the way I'm going, the way the government wants to deal with this is through negotiation."
He stressed he was expressing a government view but the Tories have no doubt that it is the view of the weak-kneed, surrender-monkey yellow Lib Dem half of the Coalition.
Cameron has to manage both sides of the coalition, but at some point, this strike and the union threat of rolling industrial action bordering on a public workers' national strike may force him to choose. ·
Comments are now closed on this article