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.

Photo: André Spicer
Show Hide image

“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.