Why Kelvin MacKenzie is wrong to diss the north

There's so much wrong with Kelvin MacKenzie's idea for a "Southern Party" that it's hard to know where to start.

Sometimes, you start a day with the best of intentions, and then someone ruins it all. I planned to spend today knitting, maybe doing some baking, planning for Christmas.

But no. Kelvin MacKenzie's been a dickhead, and so I plan to spend the next few hundred words informing him of exactly how much of a dickhead he is. 

You see, MacKenzie wants to start a "Southern Party", to help all those poor underrepresented millionaires in Kensington, Chelsea and Kent whose interests are so thoroughly ignored by the present political parties

There are so many things wrong with this article, I almost don't know where to start. Perhaps at the beginning. According to the article:

the hard-working, clever and creative people living in London and the South East who single-handedly are giving the rest of the nation a standard of living they can’t, or won’t, create for themselves.

Apparently this group is currently insufficiently represented, a source of positive growth for the economy as a whole, and in desperate need of help. Unlike these people. Obvs. 

Except, is it really obvious? Research published by the New Economics Foundation in 2009 showed that while bankers, advertising executives and accountants damage the economy, cleaners, child minders and bin-men create between £7 and £12 in the wider economy for every £1 that is spent on their services. I won't insult your intelligence by assuming you need me to cite research showing that cleaning, child minding and waste recycling are jobs that are distributed across the country, whilst banks, advertising agencies and accountants are overwhelmingly based in the south-east.

Somehow, this notion that high pay automatically correlates to a positive contribution to the wider economy just won't die. You would think that five years after the start of the great recession, the idea that those who are paid a lot of money might actually be wrecking the economy might have taken hold even a tiny little bit. Apparently not.

So much of media and governance is based in London that those of you based in the capital may not realise quite how much power and freedom you have. A start-up will find loans easier to obtain with a London address. Contacts are easier to make. Lobbying is easier. 

And there's that whole prejudice thing you don't have to deal with if you're based in the south. In the quote above, MacKenzie states that people in the south-east are creative. His obvious implication is that people elsewhere in the UK are not. Understandably, I object to his unfounded implication.

To take an example very local to me - when internet phenomenon Kickstarter launched in the UK, the first project to meet its funding goal was Sheffield-based Pimoroni. In the early years of the video games industry, Gremlin InteractiveSumo Digital and a host of smaller agencies turned Sheffield and the Don Valley into the Silicon Valley of the UK. Sheffield-based web design agency Technophobia pioneered internet banking by linking up with the Co-op to provide the UK's first internet bank, Smile.co.uk

As to MacKenzie's assertion that the south-east works harder than the rest of the country. I don't know that I can really take this seriously from someone in the middle class who is attacking a class whose very name is a testament to their hard work and dedication. 

I would love to be able to refer to a register of lobbyist and lobbying groups to show how disproportionately London-based businesses are able to influence government. Unfortunately, no such register exists.

Outside the south-east, we haven't forgotten that it was Londoners who lost Derby its train building industry. We haven't forgotten that it was London group-think that led the Coalition in it's early days to play the destruction of industrial and green technological progress for political gain with the cancellation of the Forgemasters loan.

And then he really gets his teeth in on the scroungers. Those who claim benefits. As Sarah Morrison outlined recently in the Independent, most benefit claimants are in work. In work and not being paid a living wage. Surely it doesn't take a genius to work out that if companies are using value-destroying accountants to minimise their tax bill, and paying starvation wages which must then be topped up by the government, then surely the scrounger label more properly applies to the companies, not those working for them.

The coalition and their allies are clinging to divide and rule as a central plank of their strategy. By informing us that our real enemy is our next door neighbour whose husband left her with three kids and rent arrears she didn't know were mounting, our former colleagues who didn't quite escape redundancy, the corner shop owner who couldn't afford an accountant to make sure his tax return was completed properly, they hope to distract us from the real enemy of a system past its time and a parasitic elite. 

I'm not distracted. I am angry that we have to have this fight again. But we will. 

I am not a Londoner. And for that, I am proud.

Fearless in the face of yarn, yet terrified of spiders, Charlie Hallam is a Sheffield blogger and activist. She can be found waffling about politics and yarn as @fearlessknits on Twitter.

London: not everything happens there, you know. Photograph: Getty Images

Fearless in the face of yarn, yet terrified of spiders, Charlie Hallam is a Sheffield blogger and activist. She can be found waffling about politics and yarn as @fearlessknits on Twitter.

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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.