Top 10 Politicians' Christmas cards

The Staggers verdict on cards sent from seats of power around the world

It's that time of the year again, when politicians carry out their festive duty.

Politicians being politicians, few shy away from such a valuable message-sending opportunity. The cards range from the political to the progressive, from those that double up to benefit charity to others that remain ambiguously open to interpretation.

Scroll down for a New Statesman look at politicians' Christmas cards from Britain and abroad.

 

1. From the US president, Barack Obama, and the first lady, Michelle:

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Non-religious and stately. The message of the Obamas' first Christmas card -- "May your family have a joyous holiday season and a new year blessed with hope and happiness", signed by Barack and Michelle Obama -- was apparently important enough to be discussed in Congress. Well, at least now we know what they've really been doing with their time.

 

2. From the Canadian Liberal MP Scott Brison:

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From the sound of it, there really shouldn't be that much fuss about this card, which Brison sent to 5,000 of his friends and constituents. Gorgeous landscape, adorable golden retriever, happy good-looking couple -- but this is also known as the "Brokeback Brison" card because Brison is Canada's first gay MP in a same-sex marriage. Since a story about the card ran, it has had an overwhelmingly homophobic response. The Globe and Mail news website, for one, had to shut down its comments section for the story.

Calling foul against critics is Brison, who protests: "I'm not the first politician to have a family picture on a Christmas card."

Fair enough.

 

3. From the Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd:

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Another one to stay away from religious references is Rudd's. This does it in "good leftist style", says a man who received the card, Jon Ray. Possibly the strangest of the lot, it makes no mention of Christmas but instead features one of Brisbane's CityCat ferries, and the names of the city's suburbs.

Psychologists and card scrutinisers, feel free to give your verdict on this one.

 

4. From Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

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From 10 Downing Street comes this ambiguous card from Gordon Brown, who chose to feature a photograph taken by 19-year-old Jordan Mary, winner of the Young Environmental Photographer of the Year.

It hasn't gone down that well with critics. David Breaker, who gave the card a 1/12 rating, writes:"Surely it's never wise in politics to be involved with anything greatly diminished and hanging by a thread in a cold, frosty environment, populated only by prickly and poisonous things, all of which will be gone in the New Year?"

5. From the former prime minister Tony Blair:

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He may now "do God", but Tony Blair chooses to steer clear of religion, going for the narcissist's fallback option of printing one's picture on the cover.

 

6. From the Commons Speaker, John Bercow:

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Another Godless card yet again, posted on Guido's blog. Sweet kids, boring card.

 

7. From Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond:

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The card's cover, featuring a painting by the artist Gerard Burns titled A New Journey, has riled critics with its independence innuendo.

Said the Tory whip David McLetchie: "Alex Salmond is trying to politicise Christmas, having already attempted to politicise the Saltire, Scotland's national days and our children's education. His obsession with independence is blinding him to reality."

But kudos to Salmond for managing to portray McLetchie and other critics as overworked grumps.

Replied a spokesperson for Salmond: "Messrs McLetchie and Rumbles should lighten up and get with the Christmas spirit -- they are obviously badly in need of a festive break."

At least proceeds from sales of the painting will be going to charity.

 

8. From the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg:

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Smart move by Clegg to feature a innocently-sweet-and-all-things-nice drawing by his sons Antonio, eight, and Alberto, five.

"It is very sweet," mused the clinical psychologist Mr Bracey to the Times. "It's not conveying any political messages and is just simple and naive."

To criticise Clegg's card aesthetic quality would be Scrooge-like.

 

9. From the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson:

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Daredevil Johnson is the only one of the lot who has dared to say "Merry Christmas". London bus users may disagree.

 

10. From the Conservative leader, David Cameron:

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Sending a request to Santa here, Dave?

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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.