Osborne has taken the "dot communism" fetish to another level

Labour should learn from his error.

This summer at the Edinburgh book festival, Ewan Morrison coined the excellent pejorative "Dot Communism" and I've been borrowing it ever since. Dot Communism pervades public life across all political boundaries. It is the lazy fetishisation of the values of firey start ups everywhere: work tirelessly, grow fast, and democratise resources, insofar as democratisation involves everyone owning everything at once, whether it be information or hard cash.George Osborne yesterday took this fetishisation to a new extreme, and Labour should be learning from his error.

Proposing a new scheme in which employees swap certain significant employment rights for a stake in the organisation which employs them, Osborne seeks to create a new kind of worker - the "employee-owner". In a sense it's safe Tory ground in that he's relying on personal responsibility rather than protectionism to ensure both productivity and fair play. However, the scheme also relies on- indeed champions - the thrusting owner mentality which will thrive on personal risk provided there's the promise of fat, fast returns.

Labour should be paying attention to two kinds of response. Unions have reacted with outrage, with Paul Kenny of the GMB stating unequivocally his belief that "slashing people's employment rights... won't create jobs and it won't create growth". This was perhaps predictable. Osborne gleefully played up his scheme's lefty-bating angle, introducing the policy with the gloriously sarky statement "workers of the world unite". Still, the horror of the left at this extreme application of the dot communist manifesto should be a stark warning to any overly soundbite-friendly policy wonks at Labour HQ.

More importantly, John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, was quoted in the Guardian with a distinctly lukewarm response. The scheme might be 'attractive' to workers in 'some of Britain's cutting-edge entrepreneurial companies', but he thinks 'this is a niche idea and not relevant to all businesses'. In other words, flashy get rich quick schemes might well appeal to a few media-friendly industries whose workers are characterised by boldness and zeal, but the majority of organisations rely on the bulk of their workforce feeling secure in their jobs, drawing their salary, and proceding perfectly happily without a major stake in the future of the company.

All Labour needs to do now is to realise that this is exactly what they've already said. Shadow secretary of state for business Chuka Umunna's speech at the party conference- as recorded on Labour's website- now looks rather prescient in calling for "an economy that rewards those that work hard and create sustainable value- not those just out to make a quick buck". There's an opportunity for Labour to turn this line into more than banker-bashing. They can be the party of sensible entrepreneurship and sustainable growth, the thriving local furniture business to the Tories' coke-fuelled Old Street digital bullshit dispensary.

As Ed Miliband starts putting some flesh on to the bones of his "one nation", he should be reading the papers today and remembering that, in business, mutual responsibility, shared vision and employee development are about much more than the promise of quick cash. Indeed, he's already said as much- so he'd better make sure the nation realises it.

Josh Lowe is a freelance journalist and writer. He tweets at @jeyylowe.

The silicon roundabout in Old Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

Josh Lowe is a freelance journalist and communications consultant. Follow him on Twitter @jeyylowe.

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There is nothing compassionate about Britain’s Dickensian tolerance of begging

I was called “heartless” for urging police to refer beggars to support services. But funding drug habits to salve a liberal conscience is the truly cruel approach.

In Rochdale, like many other towns across the country, we’re working hard to support small businesses and make our high streets inviting places for people to visit. So it doesn’t help when growing numbers of aggressive street beggars are becoming a regular fixture on the streets, accosting shoppers.

I’ve raised this with the police on several occasions now and when I tweeted that they needed to enforce laws preventing begging and refer them to appropriate services, all hell broke loose on social media. I was condemned as heartless, evil and, of course, the favourite insult of all left-wing trolls, “a Tory”.

An article in the Guardian supported this knee-jerk consensus that I was a typically out-of-touch politician who didn’t understand the underlying reasons for begging and accused me of being “misguided” and showing “open disdain” for the poor. 

The problem is, this isn’t true, as I know plenty about begging.

Before I became an MP, I worked as a researcher for The Big Issue and went on to set up a social research company that carried out significant research on street begging, including a major report that was published by the homeless charity, Crisis.

When I worked at The Big Issue, the strapline on the magazine used to say: “Working not Begging”. This encapsulated its philosophy of dignity in work and empowering people to help themselves. I’ve seen many people’s lives transformed through the work of The Big Issue, but I’ve never seen one person’s life transformed by thrusting small change at them as they beg in the street.

The Big Issue’s founder, John Bird, has argued this position very eloquently over the years. Giving to beggars helps no one, he says. “On the contrary, it locks the beggar in a downward spiral of abject dependency and victimhood, where all self-respect, honesty and hope are lost.”

Even though he’s now doing great work in the House of Lords, much of Bird’s transformative zeal is lost on politicians. Too many on the right have no interest in helping the poor, while too many on the left are more interested in easing their conscience than grappling with the hard solutions required to turn chaotic lives around.

But a good starting point is always to examine the facts.

The Labour leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese, has cited evidence that suggests that 80 per cent of street beggars in Manchester are not homeless. And national police figures have shown that fewer than one in five people arrested for begging are homeless.

Further research overwhelmingly shows the most powerful motivating force behind begging is to fund drug addiction. The homeless charity, Thames Reach, estimates that 80 per cent of beggars in London do so to support a drug habit, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, while drug-testing figures by the Metropolitan Police on beggars indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent tested positive for Class A drugs.

It’s important to distinguish that homelessness and begging can be very different sets of circumstances. As Thames Reach puts it, “most rough sleepers don’t beg and most beggars aren’t rough sleepers”.

And this is why they often require different solutions.

In the case of begging, breaking a chaotic drug dependency is hard and the important first step is arrest referral – ie. the police referring beggars on to specialised support services.  The police approach to begging is inconsistent – with action often only coming after local pressure. For example, when West Midlands Police received over 1,000 complaints about street begging, a crackdown was launched. This is not the case everywhere, but only the police have the power to pick beggars up and start a process that can turn their lives around.

With drug-related deaths hitting record levels in England and Wales in recent years, combined with cuts to drug addiction services and a nine per cent cut to local authority health budgets over the next three years, all the conditions are in place for things to get a lot worse.

This week there will be an important homelessness debate in Parliament, as Bob Blackman MP's Homelessness Reduction Bill is due to come back before the House of Commons for report stage. This is welcome legislation, but until we start to properly distinguish the unique set of problems and needs that beggars have, I fear begging on the streets will increase.

Eighteen years ago, I was involved in a report called Drugs at the Sharp End, which called on the government to urgently review its drug strategy. Its findings were presented to the government’s drugs czar Keith Hellawell on Newsnight and there was a sense that the penny was finally dropping.

I feel we’ve gone backwards since then. Not just in the progress that has been undone through services being cut, but also in terms of general attitudes towards begging.

A Dickensian tolerance of begging demonstrates an appalling Victorian attitude that has no place in 21st century Britain. Do we really think it’s acceptable for our fellow citizens to live as beggars with no real way out? And well-meaning displays of “compassion” are losing touch with pragmatic policy. This well-intentioned approach is starting to become symptomatic of the shallow, placard-waving gesture politics of the left, which helps no one and has no connection to meaningful action.

If we’re going make sure begging has no place in modern Britain, then we can’t let misguided sentiment get in the way of a genuine drive to transform lives through evidenced-based effective policy.

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale.