Abstaining is NOT a “no” vote

Nathan Constable /   June 29, 2015 at 8:32 PM 1,616 views

Until about three days ago I had decided to abstain from the forthcoming Police Federation ballot on whether we should attempt to get industrial rights. This was a personal and considered decision based on my own views of the ballot. I do not support it. I do not think police officers should strike and I resented being asked. I think any such move is inflammatory and doomed to failure. There is truly no prospect of it ever winning in court. It has no backing from either main party in the Houses of Commons. More importantly it doesn’t have and wouldn’t have public backing. It would set us on a collision course with the next government and would likely alienate ourselves further from the media and the public at a time when we need to do the exact opposite. It will serve as a distraction whilst we could be adopting other means. It isn’t fair or right that we have had our terms and conditions and pensions changed whilst still in service. This has had a massive impact on every officer of every rank. It has affected our life plans. It’s not what we signed up for. Let me be clear – it is fundamentally wrong. But as I have said previously, we are simply one of the last organisations to have been put in this position. Just about everyone else has had this done to them already and it isn’t right for them either. But they HAVE got industrial rights and they have achieved nothing. If the outcome of the ballot is “yes” all it commits us to is years of expensive legal wrangling which will not – WILL NOT – lead to the police being given industrial rights or the right to strike. It will not show that we “mean business.” It will not show that we “won’t take this lying down.” What it will show is a huge legal bill which could bankrupt the Federation and also cost us support both amongst those in parliament who DO support us and in the public eye. Two pieces of information have changed my mind. 1. The fact that we are now reverting to one yes / no question. After a number of us pleaded to delay the vote after PAT decided to delay their decision on severance, the Fed went some way towards this by proposing an additional conditional question. A “what if” question. This has now been done away with and we are left with a simple choice. I still think that the correct strategy would be to delay the vote but it clearly isn’t going to happen. So the question is – do we want to try and get industrial rights based on what we know now ? 2. The second thing which has changed my mind is reports that only 36,000 out of over 130,000 have registered. This bothers me. We criticised the government when the PCC elections produced a low turnout. We claimed it had no mandate. The same argument can be turned on us and we cannot use the same argument in the future. Although my decision to abstain was “informed” I find it hard to believe that 100,000 of my colleagues had made that decision on the same basis. However, if they HAVE, and this is a protest, then it leads to a problem. It could be disinterest or it could be lousy promotion of the event itself – both possible – but if things stay as they are it means the majority – the vast majority will not be heard. Prior to the PCC election we spoke of fears that a low turnout could lead to an extremist being elected. This is doubly applicable in a vote like this. The people who have registered are likely to be those who have a firm opinion one way or the other. I would suspect that the “yes” side would probably have mobilised more effectively as “this is their legitimate opportunity.” And it is a legitimate opportunity. It’s a democratic vote which had arisen from a democratic process. 100,000 officers, however, represents almost 3/4 of the workforce. 3/4 who apparently don’t want a say or are protesting. This means that one half of just over a quarter of the service is going to dictate where we go from here. One eighth! Abstaining is not going to make this go away and that is what I have come to realise. Even though we didn’t want PCC’s and many “abstained” in droves – they are still here. As it is now framed there are no “what if” questions and, rightly or wrongly, this ballot is going ahead. There is a danger that it could be steamrollered by one big force who will effectively decide the future for the 42 others. You will have gathered that I am going to register. You will have gathered that I am voting “no.” Abstaining is not a “no” vote. Nor is it a “yes” vote. I suspect, however, that if you are in the “yes” camp then you will have registered already. It needs better representation than 36,000 votes. It is not compulsory but this matter needs to be settled and with a turnout like that it will be shrouded with doubt and recrimination. The only way to be heard is to tick a box. Even if, like me, you don’t support the ballot. If you don’t support the ballot then you don’t support the fight for industrial rights. Abstaining is NOT – a “no” vote. Whatever you decide to vote – register now. Courtesy of Nathan Constable

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