If Jeremy Corbyn honestly cares about the workers, he’ll back trade union reform

I seem to remember a mordant song, to the tune of Going Underground by The Jam, that complained of the smell, the crowding, the tramps, the chewing gum on the seats, the damp – and above all, the delays. Well, I thought it was unfair then – and you don’t hear people singing that song today. Since 2008 there have been massive reductions in delays. We achieved a 40 per cent cut in Tube delays in the period to 2012, and are well on target to achieving a further 30 per cent cut.

We have more trains, better signalling – and the trains run faster than ever before. We are blasting on with a fantastic programme of improvement – air-conditioned carriages first on the subsurface lines, and then on the deep ones. We are extending the Tube for the first time in 15 years, with the link out to Battersea, to say nothing of Crossrail, and we are moving towards ever greater automation.

"A small minority of union activists and leaders have tried to hold the city to ransom by resisting every change"

London Underground will never again buy an old-fashioned train with a cab that requires a driver to sit there the whole time: the new Piccadilly Line trains will allow staff to move down the carriages, as they do on the Docklands Light Railway. Transport for London is leading the world in automated ticketing – and we are now the biggest contactless payment retailer in the world, as more and more people switch to paying by bank card. It goes without saying that we are carrying more people than ever before – about a quarter more passengers every day than eight years ago.

All these changes have been delivered by the staff of the Tube. They have done a superb job. Most of the workforce has understood that the technological changes are great for the travelling public and that they are right for the Tube: there is no point having staff sitting behind plate glass in booths when ticketing is done electronically.

Almost everyone understands that changes in technology must mean changes in working practices. Many new jobs are created, but some are done differently, and some not at all. The trouble is that there has been a small minority of union activists and leaders, who have abused their position and tried to hold the city to ransom, by resisting every change and by using modernisation as an excuse for industrial action.

We have had strikes that have achieved absolutely nothing – except to inconvenience Londoners, to damage the economy, and to cost many hard-working Tube staff their pay during the period of the strikes. To make matters worse, these strikes have very often been triggered by the stubbornness of a tiny number of workers, so that we have sometimes had the Tube services severely disrupted after fewer than 20 per cent of the relevant workforce had voted for action. That is absolutely ridiculous, and so it is high time that the Government has brought forward some sensible measures to deal with these militant excesses.

The Bill before Parliament today will do something to tackle picket-line intimidation; it will end the system whereby union contributions are simply sluiced out of the member’s bank account; it will attempt to tighten the rules that allow workers to be full‑time trade union representatives.

Above all, the Bill being proposed by Sajid Javid will bring in thresholds for the ballots for industrial action, so that you can no longer have a wildcat strike triggered by a tiny minority of workers. The key point is that when it comes to essential public services, the strike action must be supported by 40 per cent of the relevant workforce, and there must be at least a 50 per cent turnout.

That is not remotely draconian. Yes, of course we elect politicians on lower turnouts, and we have no thresholds in democratic elections; but we are talking here about services that are vital for the daily lives of millions of people. There are plenty of other cities that have some kind of restrictions on the right of mass transit workers to go on strike – and in New York, land of banned by law. If this Bill’s protection had been in place, it would have stopped 19 of the past 26 strikes on the Tube.

Of course, it will not stop trade unions from playing a constructive role in modernisation, or from withdrawing the labour of their members. But it will greatly help two sets of working people – the travelling public, and the majority of workers who have often rejected the strike, implicitly or explicitly, and who just want to get on with their jobs.

Now is the time for the great vested leader to take on the vested interests of the union barons – and do something for the workers.

The Britain-bashers’ moral outrage will not solve this migration crisis

The second point is that the UK was just about the only EU country willing even to contemplate direct military action to protect the Syrians – at that precarious moment when the leadership of the Syrian opposition had not been lost to the maniacs. It was thanks to Ed Miliband and the Labour party that the opportunity was squandered; but I don’t think you could fault the instincts of David Cameron.

And the third point in defence of the UK is that this has been a collective EU failure, and there is one key respect in which you could argue the confused response of some European capitals has made matters worse. This is a hard thing to say, but we must accept that by no means all those now trying to get to Europe are necessarily refugees, not in the strict sense of the term.

Look at those crowds tramping out of the railway station in Hungary. They seem to be composed overwhelmingly of young, able-bodied men – people who are in search of a more prosperous future – and it is neither callous nor lacking in compassion to say that many of them are arriving in Europe as economic migrants. We need, therefore, to be very careful about the signals that we are sending.

We live in an age of instant communication via social media, of swift and widespread changes in mass psychology, and it is all too easy to see how a generous message of openness and welcome to refugees could be misread – by millions of people in relatively impoverished countries surrounding the EU – as an invitation to up sticks and arrive in Europe.

There is a real danger of triggering further large migratory flows. We should think hard about the potential impact of such movements of people, especially if they were to accelerate – and not just on the countries of destination, but on the countries of origin as well.

It is certainly true that over the last few years, Germany, Italy and several other western European countries have seen a marked fall in their indigenous birth rate. They have ageing populations, and are failing to produce enough young people of their own. In accepting large numbers of energetic young migrants, they are actuated not just by compassion – though that cannot be denied – but also by a certain economic logic. It cannot be said Britain is in exactly the same position. We are going through a population boom. Our schools are bursting – certainly in London – and the demand is rising the whole time. The population of the capital went up by about 122,000 last year alone.

I am just about the only politician in the last few years who has argued consistently that immigration can be a wonderful thing; and I believe that the capital is the most dynamic and productive part of the whole EU economy partly because 40 per cent of its population were born abroad. But in managing the pressures we face – a shortage of homes, growing numbers of homeless from other EU countries – it should surely be up to us, in the UK, to decide how many more are allowed in – and not up to some quota-monger in Brussels.

Finally, we need to ask ourselves about the long-term impact on some of these troubled countries, if their most talented and energetic people are allowed to disperse themselves rapidly across the EU. Yes, of course we should help those Syrians who have no realistic hope of return, but it might also be sensible to improve the camps and the lives of those who must one day go back to rebuild their society, and offer a future to Syria.

To give those Syrians that hope of return it is increasingly obvious that we must do more. It is time once again to canvass the military options, to get Washington to take notice of a problem that is not going away and is, if anything, getting worse. If the generals think air strikes – or any other intervention – could work against Daesh/Isil, they should be listened to. I might be more inclined to listen to moralising from our EU friends if, this time, they were more willing to help.

Boris Johnson: Cut House of Lords to 400 peers with ‘Dignitas style euthanasia’ plan

"There are a great many of these geezers who don't do much at all. We probably only need about 400 legislators."

How the House of Lords looks now, by party
Party Total
Bishops 26
Cons 226
Crossbench 179
Labour 212
Liberal Democrat 101
Non-affiliated 22
Other parties 17
HoL

Mr Johnson, however, refused to say whether he would accept a peerage himself if the opportunity arose in the future.

A Cabinet minister warned last week that peers could be forced to leave the House of Lords when they get too old in a bid to ensure the second chamber does not "keep growing indefinitely".

Writing in The Telegraph, Baroness Stowell, the Conservative leader in the Lords, conceded that the second chamber needs reform in the wake of Mr Cameron’s decision to appoint more peers.

Baroness Stowell suggested that “age or term limits” could be brought in to ensure that the House of Lords “commands legitimacy”.

The House of Lords is now the world's second largest legislative body after China's National People's Congress.

Some of the new peers

Conservative appointments include:

Rt Hon William Hague – former MP for Richmond and former Foreign Secretary (R) Rt Hon Douglas Hogg QC – former MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham and held several ministerial roles (C) Rt Hon Andrew Lansley CBE – former MP for South Cambridgeshire and former Cabinet Minister (R)

Labour appointments include:

Rt Hon Tessa Jowell DBE – former MP for Dulwich and West Norwood and former Cabinet Minister (L) Rt Hon Alistair Darling – former MP for Edinburgh South West and former Cabinet Minister (C) Hon David Blunkett – former MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough and former Cabinet Minister (R)

Liberal Democrat appointments include:

Rt Hon Sir Menzies ‘Ming’ Campbell CH, CBE, QC – former MP for North East Fife and former Leader of the Liberal Democrats (L) Lynne Featherstone – former MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and held several ministerial positions (C) Sir Malcolm Bruce – former MP for Gordon, and former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats (R)