Rights at work should be back on Labour’s agenda

Trade unions have a say in this leadership election, too.

This week, Ed Miliband backed the idea of extending the right to request flexible working to "every worker, not just those caring for families". This is an idea first proposed in 2007 by Beverley Hughes. Back then, Hughes argued that "everyone has a life outside work, not just parents . . . many people make valuable contributions to their communities in their non-work time".

When you read that quotation now it feels like a "big society" argument, yet the coalition is going in the other direction. The Tories campaigned on a platform to make Britain "the most family-friendly in Europe". But for Ed Miliband, even though he's a new father, the issue is wider than one of families. He highlighted this week that "we still work harder, for longer, than any other country in western Europe".

Ed Miliband's latest defence of the European social model -- aligned to his promotion of a campaign for a national living wage and his call for Will Hutton's review of top pay in the public sector to be expanded to include the private sector -- will appeal to trade union members who have a say in this election. But it will also appeal to employees grinding out a living in low-paid or monotonous jobs.

All five candidates have said that Labour should have moved quicker on the Agency Workers Directive, a cause championed by Unite. Candidates will appear before the Unite executive this weekend and will be pressed not just on employment rights for individual workers, but also "collective rights" for trade unions.

Repeal of Margaret Thatcher's anti-union laws is unlikely to be offered by any candidate other than Diane Abbott, but the CBI has recently called for further tightening of the rules on strike ballots. Balls, Burnham and the Milibands might rule out allowing the 40 per cent turnout threshold that the CBI is lobbying for. 

Another issue that they would be wise to get ahead on is public-sector pensions, as that will be a major concern when the leadership candidates meet the Unison executive tomorrow. John Prescott has already labelled the Labour MP John Hutton's decision to chair a review for the government as the act of a "collaborator". Laying down red lines for Hutton not to cross would be a smart political move by the candidates. Actually making policy proposals could frame the review itself. 

It is important that Labour gets ahead of this debate, because there are some extremely distasteful views being expressed by Tories on this issue. Richard Balfe, Cameron's trade union envoy, told the Telegraph.

Public-sector pensions are like lollipops for kids. You decide what sort of lollipop you're going to give, and then you work out how you are going to pay for it. It's perfectly possible to maintain public-sector pensions at their current level, if you make some fairly modest alterations to employee contributions. Public-sector pensions will clearly be a very significant issue in the wider relationship between the government and the unions.

For a serious analysis of the true costs of public-sector pensions, check out the TUC's explanation showing how less than 0.2 per cent of teacher pensioners, 1.8 per cent of civil-service pensioners and 2.5 per cent of NHS pensioners get a sunset package of more than £40,000 a year.

Employment rights need to be on Labour's agenda, because the coalition has them in its sights. And voters across the social spectrum, both parents and those without family commitments, working in both the public and the private sectors, want more control over their working lives.

Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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