Exclusive: secret ballot on Brown's leadership

Letter being circulated this afternoon

A letter is being circulated among Labour MPs this afternoon calling for a secret ballot on Gordon Brown's leadership.

According to one MP who would like Brown to leave office, the letter is being co-ordinated by a number of rebels, including the former cabinet ministers Charles Clarke, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon.

However, there are questions being asked as to whether any move can be made against Brown today, in the midst of heavy snowfall, as much of the UK has ground to a halt.

"It may not be possible because of the snow," one MP said. "But the idea is that, at the very least, it forces Brown to give a commitment that if he stays on to fight the election, he will not serve more than one year."

PMQs

Brown scored an early hit against David Cameron at PMQs today when he mocked the Tories' new slogan, "Year for change", saying, in reference to Cameron caving in to the Tory right/ConservativeHome brigade on tax breaks for married couples: "He changed his policy in the morning, he changed his policy in the afternoon and he changed his policy in the evening." Cameron carped about and mocked the Budget deficit, but Brown rallied MPs. "Their policies are a change: a change back to the 1980s."

Cameron had a reasonable joke about saying "I love you, darling" and meaning it (unlike with Brown and the Chancellor) but -- uncharacteristically -- Brown hit back with a spontaneous joke of his own, about the married couple's tax allowance issue: "He can't even say I do or I don't!"

This may be the wrong day to move against Brown.

UPDATE: Hewitt and Hoon are set to issue a statement calling for Brown to step down.

UPDATE: Extracts from the Hewitt-Hoon statement:

* "Many colleagues have expressed their frustration at the way in which this question is affecting our political performance. We have therefore come to the conclusion that the only way to resolve this issue would be to allow every member to express their view in a secret ballot."

* "There is a risk otherwise that the persistent background briefing and grumbling could continue up to and possibly through the election campaign, affecting our ability to concentrate all of our energies on getting our real message across. In what will inevitably be a difficult and demanding election campaign, we must have a determined and united parliamentary party."

* "It is our job to lead the fight against our political opponents. We can only do that if we resolve these distractions. We hope that you will support this proposal."

 

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.