This essay by Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow, examines the relationship between the Conservative party and trade unions – traditionally viewed as one of inevitable conflict. The miners’ strike and industrial strife of the Thatcher era dominate memories of the relationship and have left lasting scars on both sides. But the animosity is not merely historical. The feud has been reignited under the Coalition Government, with the recent public sector strikes over changes to pensions and the introduction of a Private Member’s Bill to remove employer funding for trade union officials.
Robert Halfon sets out to debunk the myths and misunderstandings about the relationship between the Conservative party and trade unions and concludes that the two could become ‘soulmates’. Conservatives and unions in fact already agree on some areas of Coalition policy, in particular on boosting apprenticeships. Trade unions are capitalist institutions, with many offering membership services such as health insurance that directly seek to replace government. They are crucial components of civil society, the very essence of the Big Society. This essay plots the course for a more productive and less combative partnership between trade unionism and the modern Conservative movement.