Why Ed Miliband welcomed David's intervention

It is right that the Labour Party rigorously debates how to deliver fairness in tough times.

It was little reported but Ed Miliband welcomed David Miliband's elegant, cogently argued and stimulating essay last week on Labour's direction.

We all believe it is right that the Labour Party as a whole talks about how we deliver fairness in tough times. Even if the Westminster bubble wrongly sees this as division we should encourage a genuine debate be heard through the din.

So let's try. The starting point is to understand the seriousness of the party's 2010 defeat, the second worst in our history only masked by a poor Conservative result which confounded David Cameron's cocky expectation of victory.

Although the Tories didn't win, Labour lost five million votes from our 1997 landslide, four million by 2005 while Tony Blair was leader: the rot had set in well before 2010. The party was hollowed out of members, activists and enthusiasm -- and it was saddled with mega debts.

From that abyss, Ed Miliband has done remarkably well to pull Labour back to poll consistently in the promising late 30 per cents from the dismal late 20 per cents. In Wales last year Labour got its best ever Assembly result. Five MP by-elections under Ed have seen not just good victories but, significantly, big swings from Tory to Labour. After they lost in 1997 the Tories couldn't win by-elections for nearly ten years.

He has also set the agenda, on Murdoch, on bankers' bonuses, on government destruction of the NHS, on the squeezed middle and on the plight of young people denied the promise of Britain. He doesn't get much credit for that, but then no Labour leader of the opposition has ever had a favourable media unless the Tories are down and out -- witness the run up to 1997. His poll ratings compare favourably with David Cameron's first period as opposition leader after 2005.

So much for the facts, what about the ideas?

First, no complacency. Labour has a great deal of ground to make up and trust to win back. The goal of one-term opposition is daunting. Yet it is achievable, not least because there was no seismic shift like in 1997. Cameron is no Blair and he leads a creaking coalition, not a post-landslide government. What is more, parties rarely, if ever, gain support in power and Cameron starts from a low base of 36 per cent. It's game on for 2015.

Second, party reform, as David argues, is necessary. That's why our Refounding Labour project, the principles agreed at the September conference, is so important. Actually the task goes well, well beyond examining new ideas like how the French socialists widened the franchise for their Presidential candidate -- because the political party model is bust.

Whereas 4 per cent of voters were members of a party 60 years ago, today under 1 per cent are. People are not joiners anymore. But they can be engaged in their thousands as supporters -- exactly what Ed Miliband achieved at the party's 2010 conference: a new category of registered Labour supporters who pay no fee but can broaden the party's reach rather as the Obama campaign did in 2008.

Third, the role the state. No serious Labour figure today favours a "big state", a "nanny state" or a "centralised state". But where we sharply differ from Tories and their Lib Dem allies is in our absolute commitment to active government.

They favour a hands-off approach to industrial policy -- witness cutting Labour's loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, which is capable of creating a centre of excellence for nuclear centrifuges in Britain rather than abroad. Or the disastrous unwillingness to block to the UK's only remaining train manufacturer, Bombardier, from securing a £1.4bn train order. Or the missile fired at the solar industry by an arbitrary rather than phased reduction in the feed-in tariff.

The list goes on, but it amounts to a calculated and cavalier stance on our industrial base which cannot expand without the kind of active government support enjoyed by German manufacturing, for example.

Then there's the future of Britain, where again Ed has begun setting the agenda. By making the case for a progressive Britain where strong economic regions help the weak, where rich help poor, rather than a dismembered Britain where nations like citizens fend for themselves.

And the defining issue of our era: the economy and the deficit. In keeping with their neo-liberal ideology, the Tory-Lib Dems are determined to cut the state, come what may. They seem unwilling to let the facts get in the way of their dogma. They remain indifferent to the fact that the deficit has actually gone up precisely because their cuts are going too far and too fast. The cuts have forced economic activity down and unemployment up, pushing borrowing up by a staggering £158bn.

All the indices under Labour's active government have gone into reverse. When Labour left office, Alistair Darling had put in place a carefully calibrated programme to recover from the banking crisis and prevent recession sliding into depression. Borrowing was coming down, unemployment down and growth up. Under the slash and burn of Cameron and Clegg the opposite has been happening and is set to continue.
Labour remains committed to a fairer, more equal society. Yet inequality is growing, greed at the top increasingly and angrily resented by the squeezed middle.

On all the big questions, hands-off, passive government and a small state has no answers. The crisis of affordable housing cannot be resolved by leaving it to the market. Climate change cannot be tackled by PR hug-a-huskie stunts soon downgraded to no action at all. Health care will not be improved by importing the worst of America's dreadful, costly system. The ticking time bomb of elderly care cannot be off-loaded to families. Educational opportunity cannot be enhanced by a free-for-all in schools. And crime cannot be reduced by cutting all the police officers (and more) recruited by Labour.

None of that is working. Which is why -- as Ed Miliband and Shadow Cabinet members start rolling out new policy ideas in the coming months -- there is a huge opportunity for Labour, not just to bounce back as we already have, but to gain the trust of Middle Britain and win again.

Shadow Cabinet Member Peter Hain MP is Chair of Labour's National Policy Forum. His memoirs, "Outside In" have just been published by Biteback

 

Peter Hain is a former Labour cabinet minister and was MP for Neath between 1991 and 2015 before joining the House of Lords.

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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.