‘Shares for rights’: straight out of the ‘errors in Coalition’ box

By SLF Co-Chair Gareth Epps

It’s not just social Liberals and those Liberal Democrats least comfortable with the coalition that have expressed dismay at the proposal that has become known as ‘shares for rights’.

This is for a number of reasons.

First, the proposal didn’t just come out of the blue; it came after a summer of positive mood music for that long-cherished Liberal goal of co-ownership, the passing of the first ever Liberal Democrat policy paper on the subject and the successful rubbishing of the Beecroft agenda to tear up employment rights in the UK, largely due to the complete absence of evidence that it would help the economy. Inconsistency, to put it mildly.

Second, the nagging feeling that this is not a policy proposal derived from anything other than expediency – specifically the internal dynamics of that part of the Conservative Party that has forgotten it didn’t win a majority in 2010. It wants to steamroller through Beecroft, whether by the front or back door. The proposal was announced a mere 10 days before appearing tucked away in a portmanteau Bill, along with a rushed consultation (with a derisory three-week “consultation” period), having managed to unite in opposition the CBI, TUC and even the Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development. It appears to be unworkable and likely to benefit only employment lawyers.

Last but not least, the way in which the proposal was announced. This is of concern to those Liberal Democrats who had hoped Coalition decision-making had improved and lessons learned from mistakes made in the first half of this Parliament. It appears to have been signed off by the ‘Quad’, without reference to any part of the Party, going against the protocol that politically significant decisions going against Liberal Democrat policies be subject to internal discussion. If those taking the decisions in this instance thought they were politically insignificant, they have significantly misjudged the mood of the Liberal Democrats.

On that last point, there really does need to be an understanding that the Party’s tolerance is not unlimited. Government announcements in coalition that are not decided properly are bound to promote division and disunity.  The battle for the Liberal Democrats is tough enough without this.

We would urge all Liberal Democrat members to take part in the consultation and point out the flawed thinking and absence of evidence that the withdrawal of basic employment safeguards is remotely necessary for employee share ownership. I re-read the writing of the great Jo Grimond on the subject last weekend. His co-ownership proposals were in part designed to strengthen industrial relations, and made no mention of the denial of rights. I shudder to think what Jo would be saying on the subject, if he were with us today.

Coalition is, in part, a game of give and take. Shares for rights is taking liberties (quite literally), so we look forward to the most splendid gift in return.

The Government consultation can be accessed here – the closing date is 8 November.

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4 comments on “‘Shares for rights’: straight out of the ‘errors in Coalition’ box
  1. Paul Wild says:

    As Gareth has said this isn’t just a one side of the party issue, or a niche problem area, this has got all sides up in arms.

    I consider myself midway between both ‘wings’ and give no allegiance to anything other than my own conscience…and that’s screaming at me that this ‘plan’ is fundamentally wrong on so many different levels.

  2. Tracy Connell says:

    Gareth and I normally disagree on most issues I think, but on this one we are totally united. Many people in the party will know that I am one of the strongest supporters of the Coalition, of Nick and our Ministers. I have defended them endlessly.

    However, the buck stops here. On this issue I will not budge and am on a mission to defend workers rights. I am collecting signatures and support for an open letter on this issue here: http://www.libdemvoice.org/employee-share-ownership-open-letter-to-vince-cable-and-nick-clegg-30791.html, and as Gareth says, please take part in the consultation http://www.bis.gov.uk/Consultations/consultation-on-implementing-employee-owner-status?cat=open

  3. John OAKES says:

    Well said, Gareth. The whole proposal could be mistaken for a trade-union recruiting tool. In most cases these “shares” won’t have an open-market value, so the whole deal will turn out to be a fraud on the workforce . This is decidedly not how John Lewis conduct their partnership, if worker-participation is supposed to be the general aim of this ridiculous proposal….

  4. Nick Barlow says:

    Danny Alexander was at the East of England conference last Saturday and was asked about this. His response was basically repeating the line Vince put out in his LDV piece about it – employee ownership is good, this will only be aimed at small firms etc with no acknowledgement of any issues – but he also confirmed that it had been agreed as part of a trade off of who got to announce which policies at their party conference. From that, it would appear that this has been approved by the Quad, which raises some serious questions about the way the leadership is running the party.

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  1. [...] also suggest reading this post on this issue by Gareth Epps at the Social Liberal Forum. If you’re a Lib Dem member and you haven’t already, you can also add your name to this [...]

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