Aidan Burley

Glass Houses and Throwing Stones

Owen Jones — a man talking an enormous amount of sense in the debate on trades union and strike ballot thresholds.

There was an interesting moment on last week’s version of Any Questions, Radio 4’s political panel show (think Question Time, but on the radio and with a different Dimbleby), there was an interesting little exchange regarding strike ballots.

In response to a question about the PCS trade union calling a strike for the day before the Olympics begin, and coming immediately after a spout of reactionary, right-wing nonsense from Kelvin MacKenzie (if not the most insufferable and repugnant men in the media today, then certainly one of), the microphone came to Owen Jones. After he had corrected Kelvin on the reasons for the strike, and doing a sterling job explaining why the workers had no choice, Jonathan Dimbleby asked him this question:

JD: “Does the fact that only 20% were balloted, and only 50% of the 20% were in favour of strike action, weigh with you or not?

OJ: “That would strike out a lot of elected politicians in this country including Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.

Which, aside from being very true, is an interesting point. If we take practising what they preach as the standard that our politicians should be aspiring to, then the people calling for the introduction of strike ballot thresholds should, themselves, surely be commanding a majority of the overall electorate in their constituencies. Right?

So I decided to check. I started with the elected politicians in the cabinet, calculating how much of their electorates voted for them. I’ve put the turnout for each MP’s constituency there too, just for added context, and have colour coded the results: green for half or more of the vote; orange for less than half but more than a third; and red for less than a third. All results are rounded to one decimal place, and you are welcome — nay, encouraged — to check my maths:

Name Position

Turnout (%)

Support of total electorate (%)

David Cameron Prime Minister



George Osborne Chancellor of the Exchequer



Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister



William Hague Foreign Secretary



Iain Duncan Smith SoS for Work and Pensions



Vince Cable SoS for Business Skills and Innovation



Danny Alexander Chief Secretary to the Treasury



Theresa May Home Secretary



Michael Gove SoS for Education



Eric Pickles SoS for Communities and Local Government



Justine Greening SoS for Transport



Ed Davey SoS for Energy and Climate Change



Andrew Lansley SoS for Health



Ken Clarke SoS for Justice



Philip Hammond SoS for Defence



Caroline Spelman SoS for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs



Owen Paterson SoS for Northern Ireland



Cheryl Gillan SoS for Wales



Jeremy Hunt SoS for Culture, Media and Sport



Michael Moore SoS for Scotland



Andrew Mitchell SoS for International Development



Francis Maude Minister for the Cabinet Office



Oliver Letwin Minister of State in the Cabinet Office



David Willetts Minister of State for Universities and Science



Sir George Young Leader of the House of Commons



Patrick McLoughlin Chief Whip in the House of Commons



Dominic Grieve Attorney General



There’s a distinct lack of green in that table, isn’t there?

And bear in mind that these are cabinet ministers, the leading politicians of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. Most of them represent “safe seats” where they far outstrip the nearest rival candidates. Backbenchers who represent more marginal constituencies are going to command even less support.

So, after this enlightening little revelation, I thought I’d do a bit more. Below is a second table, showing the same information with a number of other elected politicians who have called for or expressed support for introducing a rule requiring a ballot on industrial action to reach a threshold level of support in order to be valid.

(N.B. Aidan Burley is the chairman of the “Trade Union Reform Campaign”, an organisation dedicated to attacking the trades union, and staffed by a variety of comic characters, of whom Burley is by far the most tragically hilarious.)

Name Position

Turnout (%)

Support of total electorate (%)

Boris Johnson Mayor of London



Matthew Hancock MP for West Suffolk



Aidan Burley MP for Cannock Chase, Chairman of the TURC



Dominic Raab MP for Esher and Walton



Priti Patel MP for Witham



Nick de Bois MP for Enfield North



Conor Burns MP for Bournemouth West



Damian Green Minister of State for Immigration



Still no green. And a good deal more red.

Now, I actually agree that there’s a problem with the turnout in the PCS ballot. But the solution isn’t curbing the democracy of the unions, but trying to encourage better participation in the democratic process. Owen Jones himself went on to suggest a number of good, constructive ideas:

What we need to do is change our very stringent anti-union laws to allow workplace based balloting, to ensure as many workers can take part as possible. Text balloting, email balloting. At the moment the problem is with the postal ballot system, is that most people don’t get round to filling out their postal ballot and sending it off.

Maybe I’m just a dangerous lefty subversive, but I think there’s a certain irony in people who don’t have majority support complaining that the unions don’t have the support of the majority of their members. This kind of hypocrisy could be stemmed with the introduction of a more proportional voting system — but none of the Conservative politicians listed above supported such a move when it was put to a referendum in 2011.

There is a well-known proverbial saying, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones“. And I think there are a lot of politicians on the government benches in the House of Commons who should think very carefully upon it.

Apologies – the Rights and Wrongs

The apologies from Luis Suarez and Kenny Daglish do what Aidan Burley's apology in the wake of his Nazi-themed party did not; namely accept responsibility

Apologies are tricky things. The admission of being in the wrong, and the facing of the consequences. It’s a humbling thing to have to do, but also a brave thing to do. Unfortunately, it’s much more common to see a weak, non-apology: the “I’m sorry if I caused any offence” line.

This afternoon, Liverpool Football Club have issued a couple of apologies. Having read them through, I’m rather impressed. They seem like full, sincere apologies, which is something of a breath of fresh air. Before I launch into an examination and explanation, I’ll declare a two-fold interest: firstly, I am a Liverpool fan; secondly, I don’t like Luis Suarez. He’s a good player, but ever since his cheating against Ghana in the World Cup, I haven’t cared for him.

Right, now that’s done with… Yesterday, ahead of the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United, Suarez refused to shake hands with United player Patrice Evra. There’s history between the two, specifically that Suarez was punished for racially abusing Evra earlier in the season.

Below is the text of Suarez’s apology:

“I have spoken with the Manager since the game at Old Trafford and I realise I got things wrong. I’ve not only let him down, but also the Club and what it stands for and I’m sorry. I made a mistake and I regret what happened. I should have shaken Patrice Evra’s hand before the game and I want to apologise for my actions. I would like to put this whole issue behind me and concentrate on playing football.”

Note what Suarez says here. He identifies (correctly) what he did wrong, states what he should have done, and apologises for not doing that. He doesn’t apologise for the offence that people took at his actions, because it was the actions themselves that were wrong.

Kenny Daglish, Liverpool’s manager, has also apologised for his horribly misjudged defence of Suarez in a post-match interview:

“When I went on TV after yesterday’s game I hadn’t seen what had happened, but I did not conduct myself in a way befitting of a Liverpool manager during that interview and I’d like to apologise for that.”

Again, Kenny does the same thing. He identifies what he did wrong, and apologises for it. Neither man makes mention of the people who were offended, because to do so would shift the blame onto them, when it was the player and manager who were in the wrong.

For a bit of a comparison, take a look at this “apology” from Conservative MP Aidan Burley after he was revealed to have attended an extremely offensive Nazi-themed stag party, where attendees dressed up in SS uniforms and made toasts to the Third Reich:

“Deeply regret inappropriate behaviour by some guests at stag party I attended and I am extremely sorry for any offence that was caused.”

(Again, with the interest declaring: I am a Labour Party member and activist, and I am not at all a fan of Mr Burley)

Now, leaving aside for the moment that Burley’s version of events later turned out to be false, this is a textbook example of the “non-apology” I mentioned above. Look at what he’s apologising for: “any offence that was caused”. He’s not apologising for attending the party, for not stopping his fellow party-goers when their behaviour became unacceptable, or leaving when it did. He apologises that people were offended by his actions. He doesn’t believe that he did anything wrong, but he’s sorry that you do.

Yesterday I was ashamed of my football club. Today I am not. Kenny Daglish and Luis Suarez, whatever you may think of them or of Liverpool, have accepted that they were in the wrong, accepted responsibility, and have apologised for what they did. This doesn’t make everything magically okay, but it’s a first step.

If this sort of humility were replicated across our society, we could only be better for it.