Home Secretary, Theresa May MP. Photo: UK Home Office
If it was safe enough to choose our new PM, online voting is safe enough for trade unions
The Conservative Party leadership election has been rapid, dramatic and completely bewildering. And now with the withdrawal of the last remaining challenger to Theresa May it looks like there won’t even be a vote at all.
But there’s one thing in this campaign that has been overlooked in favour of the more sensational stories dominating the media for the last fortnight, and it’s something that will be very interesting to trade unionists.
The voting process that had been due to start on 2 August would, for the first time in a Conservative Party leadership ballot, have been conducted both by post and online.
That shouldn’t be surprising these days. Membership organisations and companies have used the same system for ages (over a decade in some cases), and in huge ballots, much larger than the 130,000 or so Tory members who would have been voting in this.
But it sits badly at odds with the government’s recent moves to deny trade unions the use of online voting for statutory ballots like strike votes or our own leadership elections.
Unions are the only membership organisations banned by law from using online voting. The recent Trade Union Act was a chance for the government to modernise this, but ministers were dead set against reform.
In the end, union campaigning and a major rebellion in the Lords forced the government to concede a review on this unfair restriction later this year, but they still wouldn’t promise any definite action.
Their stated concern was that for a decision as important as a strike ballot, a “new” method like online voting had not yet been proven secure enough.
So as well as blowing holes in several political careers, this campaign has blown a hole in the balloting arguments of the Trade Union Act. If it’s secure enough to choose our Prime Minster, the highest office in the country and a decision which will affect the lives of everyone living here, then online voting is surely secure enough to let a group of workers decide whether or not to exercise their right to take industrial action.
Will Theresa May now join us in backing online voting for unions? It’d be great if she could offer the Conservative Party’s risk assessment for this vote as evidence to the upcoming review on the security of online balloting. It could help explain things very clearly to the ministers responsible.
It’s good to see the Conservative Party catching up with widespread good practice on this. If we want as many people as possible to engage with the democratic process, we just can’t ignore ideas that will make it easier and more natural for them to do so.
But now they really need to give up their disingenuous claims around security of online voting for unions, so that trade union members can finally enjoy the same democratic rights as Conservative Party members.