Cable rejects unfair dismissal proposals

The Business Secretary says there is "no evidence" to back up claims in Downing Street report leaked

Vince Cable has rejected the suggestion, put forward by Adrian Beecroft, that unfair dismissal laws should be scrapped. As I blogged yesterday, a report by the venture capitalist commissioned by Downing Street claimed that the laws were hindering efficiency and growth by making it too difficult for employers to sack unproductive members of staff. It went so far as to say that this was the "first" problem facing British enterprise.

Asked about the proposals during a speech on growth at the Policy Exchange think-tank, Cable stressed that it was not an official report. He dismissed the central argument:

No evidence has been advanced that I have seen that it will improve labour market flexibility in general, or have any beneficial effect, but if anyone can produce any, we will look at it.

He also added that unemployment has not shot up due to a lack of flexibility in the labour market, and commended the flexibility of business and workers during the recession:

There was a great deal of flexibility shown by our employees as well as the employers. I go round a lot of our industrial plants. The unions have their formal positions, but it is very clear they are committed to their companies and are very flexible about working practices so the world has changed an awful lot in the last 30 years in a positive way.

According to aides, Cable and the Employment Minister, Ed Davey, are fighting to ensure that plans for growth do not end up with a narrow-focus on restrictive employment laws. However, George Osborne has already announced a range of measures which will make it easier to sack people. In the reforms that have gone through, people are only entitled to claim unfair dismissal when they have been working for at least two years. With further proposals expected on sick pay, it is urgent that this does not become an all-out assault on workers' rights at a time when employment is already so unstable.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.