Conservative "poll blow" won't land on Ed

Leaked polling data suggesting David Miliband is considered more fit to be prime minister can be dis

Conservative polling, leaked to the Times (£), has suggested that Ed Miliband is not considered as fit for the job of prime minister as his brother David.

53 per cent of respondents apparently said they thought David was more suited to the top job, compared with 36 per cent for his younger brother, and Labour's new leader:

"Mr Miliband is seen as a nice, compassionate figure. However, voters do not believe that he has a clear plan for the economy and fear that their lives would be worse off with him in charge"

While undoubtedly piling yet more pressure on Ed to deliver the speech of his life this afternoon, this leak also highlights once again just how crucial David Miliband's choice about his future in politics could be to Labour's time in opposition.

Straight-forward popularity in leadership elections has never been a particularly good measure of electoral success, as Ken Clarke has proved time and time again -- in 1997's Tory contest, he was the first choice of more people than the other four candidates combined, only to lose out to William Hague in the actual poll. Of course, the situations are not directly comparable; the Conservative contest was conducted via a poll of MPs, rather than a full electoral college as Labour's was. But in one sense, Ed Miliband's challenge is similar to William Hague's, facing as he does a newly-elected prime minister still enjoying reasonable personal approval, having just beaten an apparently more popular colleague in a close-run contest to lead his party.

As much as David Miliband himself might urge unity and a break with "class war", his presence cannot help but encourage constant comparisons with his brother.

However, there is no reason why this poll should have a significant impact on either Ed Miliband's ability to set a new agenda or Labour's boost in the polls today. Despite the Times' decision to run this as their front page today, their article lacks sufficient information to draw any firm conclusions. It was apparently conducted "this month during the Labour leadership contest", and "involved more than 2,000 respondents online" who were asked for their views "after watching their campaign videos". Without more information about when precisely the poll was conducted, who the respondents were (party affiliation and so on), and whether responses were based purely on campaign videos, it is impossible to consider this a serious "blow" to Ed Miliband.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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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.