Could Labour win the election?

Tory lead falls to just 2 points.

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Latest poll (Sunday Times/YouGov): Labour nine seats short of a majority.

"Gordon Brown on course to win election" is a headline almost no one would have expected to see at this stage of the electoral cycle. But today's YouGov poll confirms what a terrible start the Conservatives have made to their campaign. It puts the Tories on 37 per cent, just 2 points ahead of Labour, and the party's lowest lead since December 2008.

If the figures were repeated on a uniform swing at the election, Labour would emerge as the largest single party in a hung parliament, nine seats short of an overall majority.

The poll is particularly alarming for the Tories for two reasons. First, it suggests that the potential number of Labour voters is far higher than previously thought.

Second, it suggests that the Tories suffer when their policies come under sustained scrutiny. Brown's call for voters to "take a second look at us, and a long, hard look at them" seems to have resonated with the media and the public.How else can we explain the Conservatives' precipitous decline?

New Statesman poll of polls

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Labour 28 seats short of a majority.

As I've pointed out before, the fragile nature of the economic recovery appears to be working in Brown's favour -- it strengthens his argument that immediate spending cuts would damage the economy and upsets the Tories' message. The poll also confirms that the bullying allegations against the PM have done no damage to Labour's support. It may be that the voters actually rather like being led by someone with a bit of a temper.

Brown will surely now be tempted to call an election while the political momentum is with Labour and go to the country in April. But I'd still be surprised if he doesn't plump for 6 May in order to avoid the cost of holding two separate elections.

As a word of caution to Labour optimists, it's worth pointing out that there's still almost no chance of Brown winning an overall majority. Boundary changes mean that Labour's 66-seat majority has fallen to a notional lead of 48. This leaves Cameron with only 24 seats to win to knock off Labour's overall advantage. I expect the Tories still to be leading in the key marginals.

But for Labour to emerge as the largest single party would be an astonishing turnaround. That the Tories are still struggling to defeat a government battered by recession and the expenses scandal is quite remarkable.

Can Cameron lead a successful Tory comeback? He has done so before, of course, in the run-up to the election-that-never was. We'll begin to find out later today.

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George Eaton is political editor of 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.